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WHO To Help Angola Fight Fatal Marburg Disease

UN Steps Up Efforts To Help Angola Fight Highly Fatal Marburg Disease

United Nations agencies are stepping up their efforts to help Angola fight an outbreak of Marburg virus disease, a rare but highly fatal haemorrhagic illness with epidemic potential that has already killed 117 of the 124 victims so far identified in the southern African country, most of them children.

A World Health Organization (WHO) team of experts from the Inter-country programme for southern Africa, the Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) and from Headquarters, as well as partners in the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), a technical collaboration of existing institutions and networks, are supporting Angola's Health Ministry in strengthening active surveillance and contact tracing.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is helping to organize a countrywide communication and social mobilization campaign to inform the population of the disease, for which there is no vaccine or curative treatment, and the preventive measures to take.

"A timely and relevant communication strategy is absolutely crucial to prevent the virus from spreading," UNICEF country representative Mario Ferrari said of the disease, which appears to be spread by close contact with bodily fluids of infected people, as occurs in health care or burial.

Elements of the campaign are already up and running in the northern province of Uige, source of all the cases so far, with radio programmes constantly broadcasting messages to reach people at risk of the disease, which begins with severe diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and chest and lung pains, with a high proportion developing severe haemorrhage in the gastrointestinal tract and lungs.

Some 600 activists have been trained and given much needed materials to conduct house-to-house visits and ensure the word reaches the more isolated areas.

A UNICEF emergency convoy with 42 kits of essential drugs and gloves for health workers arrived in Uige at the weekend to ensure dispensaries are stocked up to treat the related symptoms and other common illnesses. Thanks to the rapid response of UNICEF's Copenhagen-based supplies team, badly needed disinfectants, intravenous liquids, masks, protection glasses, clothes and boots for health workers are on their way for prompt distribution to Uige and other provinces.

"The response needs to be firm, rapid and multilayered," said Guy Clarysse, head of the health section in Angola. "While we make sure the ill are cared for, we need to protect the health personnel. Their commitment is crucial to maintain the faith of the population and ensure they seek help in the hospital and health centres in Uige."

The disease, of the same family as Ebola, was first identified in 1967 during simultaneous outbreaks affecting laboratory workers in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The outbreaks, which involved 31 cases and seven deaths, were subsequently linked to contact with infected monkeys imported from Uganda.

Marburg occurs very rarely and appears to be geographically confined to a few countries in southern Africa. The largest outbreak on record, from 1998 to 2000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), involved 149 cases, 123 of them fatal.

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