Ebola situation escalates in Africa, WHO seeks Tanzania possible case details

By Ben Hargreaves

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/ChiccoDodiFC)
(Image: Getty/ChiccoDodiFC)

Related tags Ebola Ebola vaccine Africa Merck Johnson & johnson

Unofficial reports suggested that individuals in Tanzania were exhibiting Ebola-like symptoms, but the WHO reports not receiving detailed information from the country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) publicly noted four separate unofficial reports that patients were suspected of showing symptoms of Ebola virus disease (EVD).

Five days after the initial reporting of a potential carrier of the Ebola virus dying in Tanzania, the country contacted the WHO to notify the organization that there were no cases of the virus in the country.

In the same announcement​, the WHO stated that the country’s authorities had not indicated what the cause of illness had been and, in a separate statement three days later, the organization acknowledged: “Despite several requests, WHO did not receive further details of any of these cases from Tanzanian authorities.”

In its account of the unfolding scenario, the WHO stated that Tanzanian health authorities did not consider the possibility of secondary testing for Ebola of the four individuals who had become ill.

Despite having an unclear picture of the situation in Tanzania, the WHO stated that it had shipped personal protective equipment and supplies to the region to support vaccination, should it be needed.

The organization concluded, on the risk of a potential outbreak of Ebola, that due to the limited information it was unable to form a hypothesis regarding the possible cause of the illness.

The WHO did not recommend implementing restrictions travel or trade restrictions.

Tourism is a significant industry for the East African nation, with a report from 2017/2018 suggesting that travel into the country represented 17.5% to Tanzania’s gross domestic product (GDP).

WHO’s unofficial report timeline

  • September 10, 2019:​ Through its regular event-based surveillance process, WHO was made aware of unofficial reports regarding the death of a person with suspected Ebola Virus disease (EVD) case in Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania. The identified contacts of the deceased were unofficially reported to be quarantined in various sites in the country. Under the IHR Articles 9 and 10, WHO immediately sent a verification request to the National IHR Focal Point (NFP) of the country
  • 11 September:​ Through its regular event-based surveillance process, WHO was made aware of unofficial reports that a RT-PCR test performed at the Tanzanian National Health Laboratory was positive for EVD for this patient.
  • On the same day:​ WHO received unofficial reports regarding another suspected EVD case in Mwanza, located in the northern region of the United Republic of Tanzania, who later tested negative for EVD. WHO continued to reach out under the IHR to the health authorities of the United Republic of Tanzania to verify these signals
  • September 12:​ WHO was informed by unofficial sources of a 27-year-old patient suspected of EVD admitted in a hospital of Dar es Salaam without further information regarding laboratory tests and results

Second vaccine introduced in DR Congo

Across a shared border, in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, it was announced that the country was planning on using a second experimental Ebola vaccine to control the spread of the virus.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine differs from the one currently used, which is provided by Merck, known as MSD in North America and Mexico, as it requires two doses, 56 days apart. Merck’s vaccine only requires a single dose.

However, J&J has stockpiled 1.5 million doses, which can be deployed to provide ‘ring vaccination’, outside of areas with active Ebola transmission but in locations that are considered at risk.

The WHO explained​ the ring strategy is “where all people who have come into contact with someone with a confirmed case of Ebola are given the vaccine,”​ alongside targeted geographic vaccination.

In addition to the entrance of J&J’s vaccine, Merck announced last week that it planned to produce 650,000 additional doses​ of the vaccine over the next 6-18 months.

The company will be helped in the process by the provision of funding from the US government​ for a year’s supply of the vaccine.

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