Ebola Threat and Russia's Response

Published on 30th September 2014

Over the past few months, Russia's response to the outbreak of lethal Ebola disease in west Africa has been highly overwhelming. The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry said on its website that they were convinced the active Russia's participation in international collective efforts would make a noticeable contribution to the elimination of the outbreak of this dangerous disease.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also told reporters that Russia was ready to send more highly-qualified experts to assist in the fight against the Ebola virus epidemic in Africa. "Russia will make an active contribution to the efforts of the world community," Lavrov noted, speaking on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
He outlined Russia's task for effective participation in global efforts. Ebola virus is a problem that should bring all countries together, Lavrov said. The UN Security Council called the Ebola outbreak a threat to international peace and security.
Recognising the health crisis and rising humanitarian aspects and possible negative impact on the economy, Russia has joined global efforts to fight the epidemic by partnering with the United Nations, other international organisations and the governments of affected countries (Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Senegal) where the epidemic was reportedly getting worse on daily basis.
The key goals of the Russian government is to help with clinical research to identify the original cause of the disease, monitoring, and advocating for adherence to rigorous procedures of infection control, engaging in providing useful information and educating the African and Russian public as well as the broader global audience about the prevention and control of the disease.
Russian Federation has already offered an immense humanitarian assistance and has despatched medical group to the affected countries. Specialists from Rospotrebnadzor, Russia's Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare, are continuing their work in Guinea fighting the lethal Ebola disease, the watchdog reported on its website.
Buziness Africa monitoring and research can confirm that Russia, indeed, has destached mobile laboratory to Guinea. The mobile laboratory has equipment to diagnose Ebola and other dangerous infection diseases. The team of specialists continues working on diagnostic aid and participation in anti-epidemic measures in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene of the Republic of Guinea, the statement says.
In September, Rospotrebnadzor sent a cargo with personal protective equipment (masks, gloves etc) from Saratov (about 900 km from Moscow) for healthcare workers battling the Ebola virus in Guinea, according to the agency's chief Anna Popova.
Russian scientists are already experienced in diagnosing the Ebola virus and a Russian anti-epidemic team, which includes epidemiologists, virologists and bacteriologists from Rospotrebnadzor, is currently stationed in Guinea.
"We have been able to verify the effectiveness of our diagnostic kits. As of today, we have three Russian-produced diagnostic systems, these are the only ones we are working with (in Guinea). The Central Research Institute of Epidemiology has developed a kit for Ebola diagnosis. It works very effectively and is being registered in Russia. With these testing systems, we are ready to assist our colleagues in other laboratories and other countries," Popova said.
While attending the Sochi International Investment Forum, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets also told reporters on the sidelines: "Russian doctors are working successfully in the area of Ebola outbreak in west Africa. Positive steps were made to develop a vaccine. Now, it is passing systematic tests."
Early September, Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova told Itar-Tass after a roundtable conference hosted by the All-Russia People's Front that Russian vaccine for Ebola virus passed successful tests. "We've gotten a vaccine that has passed a very successful pre-clinical testing and now we're awaiting certification by the World Health Organisation but we're ready to use the vaccine in principle. We'll use it wherever our assistance is needed," Skvortsova said adding that the Russian vaccine could be used in the way as the Americans had already used their experimental vaccine.
In addition to the measures taken by the government, Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dmitry Maksimychev, has informed that "Russia will provide food aid to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, which have been hit the hardest by the Ebola." He said over $1 million worth of aid to be provided. "Russia has actively joined in the efforts to provide financial and technical support to the affected countries on both a multilateral and bilateral basis," the diplomat said.
"Considering more extensive consequences of the epidemic, including the food security threat, Russia, in cooperation with the World Food Program, is preparing food assistance in the amount of more than $1 million to the three most affected countries," Maksimychev said.
Russia would also make a contribution of $2.5 million to the World Health Organisation's budget in 2014-2015 to facilitate the introduction of international medical and sanitary rules as the basis for global response to threats similar to the Ebola virus disease. In addition, Russia will provide $4 million in direct technical assistance to countries that need help in introducing these rules. Another $3.5 million will be contributed to WHO for improving its emergency response capabilities.
Russia has provided funding for the purchase and supply of medical modules, medicines and disposables for 60,000 people in countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak, Maksimychev said. One such module will be delivered to Benin shortly, he added. Russia has set up a specialised epidemiological team which is working in Guinea in cooperation with WHO and Doctors Without Borders to help the country's Health Ministry deal with the problem.
More Russian medics and volunteers will be sent to Guinea. He said Russian specialists had created a vaccine against Ebola which has passed preclinical testing. "We expect it to be certified by WHO. After that we will be prepared to use it if need be," he said. Russia is also ready to supply its own high sensitivity test systems to the region.
Russia has shown its preparedness to control the export of the virus to its territory. Despite the tragic epidemic in west Africa, Russia's health experts and official authorities have agreed it is highly unlikely that there would be an Ebola outbreak in Russia. Nevertheless, Russia continues taking extra effective measures to prevent the unintentional importation of cases into the country. "There are no threats for Russians. We have several barriers of protection," according to Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets.
Russia's Federal Medico-Biological Agency has set up a specialised evacuation service ready to throw its shoulder into the worldwide effort to curb the Ebola virus disease (EVD). The agency held a meeting on steps to prevent the outbreaks of particularly contagious infections on the territory of Russia.
The Federal Agency for Tourism (Rostourism) in a statement recommended Russians not to travel to Ebola-affected countries. Rospotrebnadzor (a public health protection watchdog) warns that the epidemic situation remains tense in west Africa – especially Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal. Both Rostourism and Rospotrebnadzor recommend Russian citizens not to travel to the epidemic zone and remind tour operators and travel agencies that they must inform clients about the situation in west Africa.
The Russian Health Ministry continues monitoring the condition of students who have returned from Ebola-stricken countries. All these students were watched for 21 days to determine if any of them has symptoms of the virus disease. All passengers using direct and connection flights from west and central Africa have their temperature taken remotely.
The Presidential Special Envoy to Africa and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Federation Council, Upper House of Russian Parliament, Mikhail Margelov, called for more active cooperation with African countries following the Ebola outbreak in west Africa. "The epidemic is not only carrying the threat of death but it is also increasing tension in the region with the healthcare systems of the affected countries having to cope with the enormous workload, borders getting closed, civil planes being grounded and people panicking," he said assertively.
The threat of the disease virus could be sporadic. Interestingly important for the general public awareness, Nick Golding, a researcher at Oxford University's Department of Zoology, using a new model devised by the university predicts 15 countries in Africa to be at risk of animal-to-human transmissions of the deadly Ebola virus due to their geographic location.
The model traces the previously nonexistent Ebola virus found in west Africa to fruit bats, capable of spreading the disease to other animals and humans. The migratory activities of birds, hunting practices put humans who prepare and consume infected animals at risk.
The bats inhabit a dense forest which geographically puts 15 countries at risk including Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Togo, the United Republic of Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar and Malawi.
According to various medical reports, the Ebola virus is currently spreading across west Africa with cases registered in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The virus is transmitted through direct contact with the blood, body fluids or tissue of infected animals or people. Several countries, including Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan are currently working on vaccines.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the number of cases was significantly underreported. The CDC further said in the report that the number of Ebola cases in west Africa may reach 1.4 million by January if no urgent measures to contain the deadly outbreak are taken. The outbreak has claimed over 2,800 lives in west Africa, according to the latest WHO estimates. A total of 5,293 Ebola cases were reported in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra-Leone, Nigeria and Senegal since the beginning of the current outbreak. (Source: Buziness Africa).

By Kester Kenn Klomegah.

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