U.N. World Health Organization officials say they are optimistic about the chances of controlling Angola’s deadly Marburg virus outbreak as public health messages reach ordinary people, a spokesman said.
WHO spokesman Dave Daigle said 236 people had died in Angola’s northern Uige province alone since the outbreak began, but that the numbers were now rising more slowly.”We think things are improving. We are making great strides,” he told Reuters in Luanda late on Monday shortly after arriving from Uige. “We know we haven’t contained it or controlled it, but we have slowed it. We’re encouraged.”Angola’s government describes the outbreak as “under control,” citing the fact cases have remained restricted to Uige or to a handful of travelers recently returned from the region.The Ebola-like virus is often accompanied by massive bleeding and is spread through body fluids including blood, sweat and saliva.Health officials say many of the new cases contracted the disease after caring for loved ones in the final stages of illness, or through washing and kissing bodies after death in accordance with local custom.A major effort has been aimed at encouraging people to bring the sick to an isolation ward at Uige’s main hospital.”We have to get to the people who are sick, find them and break the transmission cycle,” said Daigle. “We think that things are improving. We’re getting more calls for sick people not bodies. We’ve got more people coming to the hospital.”Targeting traditional leaders and bringing in more Angolan staff had helped improve the WHO’s relationship with the local population, which regarded early international medical efforts in the region warily, he said.But there were still fears traditional healers were treating patients, he said, risking further spread. Syringes had been found at the houses of some of the dead, prompting concern that healers were offering injections as bogus treatments for a disease that has no cure or vaccine.”Some of us think they may have some kind of remedy which they think can cure Marburg,” Daigle said. “Unfortunately, when you share needles you are just continuing the infection.”But there were signs for optimism, he said, with more local healers now cooperating with WHO disease control efforts.”We have been very aggressively targeting the traditional healers and we think they are coming on board,” he said.(Source: Reuters Health, World Health Organisation, April 2005)