'Vital' to Resume Flights to Ebola-Hit Countries, Says WHO

Geneva:  The World Health Organization on Thursday said it was vital that airlines resume flights to Ebola-hit west Africa, warning that suspenion of flights was threatening efforts to beat the epidemic.

"Right now there is a super risk of the response effort being choked off because we simply cannot get enough seats on enough airplanes to get people in and out, and get goods and supplies in," WHO's emergency chief Bruce Aylward told reporters as he launched a nine-month Ebola battle plan.

"We assume that the current restrictions on airlines will stop within the next couple of weeks," he told reporters. "This is absolutely vital."

WHO has declared Ebola an international health emergency, but has insisted repeatedly that trade and travel restrictions are not the answer.

But in the face of the spiralling Ebola toll in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, airlines have reduced and suspended flights.

"There's got to be global preparedness. There's got to be preparedness in major transport hubs. But bans on travel and trade will not stop this virus. In fact, you are more likely to compromise the ability to respond," said Aylward.

"It's a self-defeating strategy to ban travel," he added. "That's not the problem. People with Ebola are symptomatic. You can exit screen" flights leaving the affected countries by taking passengers temperatures, which can "substantively reduce risk".

On Wednesday, Air France became the latest carrier to announce a suspension of its service to Sierra Leone, while British Airways said it was stopping its flights to Freetown and Monrovia until next year.

Royal Air Morocco is now the only airline providing a regular service to the capitals of Sierra Leone and Liberia, while Brussels Airlines offer an irregular schedule.

The UN envoy on Ebola, David Nabarro, this week criticised airlines for scrapping flights, warning that Ebola-hit countries faced increased isolation and made it harder for the UN to carry out its work.

"I saw someone write somewhere that 'the closing of these air borders is understandable'. No it's not," said Aylward.

"Not if you understand the disease, you educate yourself on it, you put in place the proper procedures. This is an alarming aspect of how it's evolved, and how we can manage the response," he said.

Aylward said the flight suspensions were linked to a broader issue, saying airlines struggled to find safety-accredited hotels for their crews' overnight stays, or faced restrictions on landing rights for refuelling.

WHO is striving to bridge the gap as it seeks to ramp up the global response to Ebola with a $490 million programme.

"A short-term air bridge is built into this," said Aylward.

"But if we have to go with a long-term air bridge, that ends up costing $30 million instead of $15 million," he said.

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Ebola outbreak: Size of problem has been 'vastly' underestimated, says WHO

The size of the deadly Ebola outbreak appears to have been “vastly” underestimated, the World Health Organisation has warned.

The United Nations body said the disease was continuing to spread with reports of 1,975 cases and 1,069 deaths in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

However it added in a statement issued on Thursday: “Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak.

“WHO is coordinating a massive scaling up of the international response, marshaling support from individual countries, disease control agencies, agencies within the United Nations system, and others.”

The body said that there was “extraordinary measures… on a massive scale” were required “to contain the outbreak in settings characterized by extreme poverty, dysfunctional health systems, a severe shortage of doctors, and rampant fear”.

In some places affected by the disease, bodies have been left to lie in the street as they are actually more infectious than living people with the disease.

The WHO statement added that no new cases had been found in Nigeria “following the importation of a case in an air traveller last month”.

Meanwhile the World Bank said on Thursday that international agencies were considering emergency food drops to help starving people in parts of Liberia and Sierra Leone that have been cordoned off to help stop the spread of the disease.

Deaths of farmers have meant crops have rotted in the fields, while shops have closed and lorry drivers have refused to take deliveries to affected areas.

Tim Evans, senior director for health at the World Bank, said the Mano River region, home to about 1 million people and an epicenter for the deadly disease, was a major concern.

“There has been a lot of inflation in food prices and a lot of difficulty in getting food to the quarantined population,” he said.

“We are looking at exactly what the needs are and where, and then looking at how we contribute to making sure that food gets to the right places.”

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) has declared a Level Three food emergency, its highest threat rating, in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leon.

It is urgently mobilising teams to get food into the area and prevent widespread hunger and deaths.

“We are pulling out all the stops,” said Steve Taravella, WFP spokesman in Washington.

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Ebola outbreak: WHO launches $100M plan as death toll tops 700

Sierra Leone declares public health emergency as other West African nations set new airport controls

the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history has killed more than 700 people in West Africa. (Samaritan's Purse/Associated Press)


The World Health Organization is launching a $100-million response plan to combat an "unprecedented" outbreak of Ebola in West Africa that has killed 729 people out of 1,323 infected since February, the agency said on Thursday.


WHO Director General Margaret Chan will meet in Conakry, Guinea, on Friday with the presidents of affected West African nations, the United Nations health agency said in a statement.


"The scale of the Ebola outbreak, and the persistent threat it poses, requires WHO and Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to take the response to a new level and this will require increased resources, in-country medical expertise, regional preparedness and co-ordination," said Chan.


The plan identifies the need for "several hundred more personnel" to be deployed in affected countries to ease the strain on overstretched treatment facilities, the WHO said. Clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, and logisticians are urgently needed, it said in an appeal to donor countries


"The plan sets out new needs to respond to the outbreak across the countries and bring up the level of preparedness in neighbouring countries," WHO spokesman Paul Garwood said. "They need better information and infection-control measures."


The plan aims to stop transmission of the virus by strengthening disease surveillance, particularly in border areas, protecting health workers from infection and doing a better job of explaining the disease to communities.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory against non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.


Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said his agency is stepping up its response to the outbreak and will send an additional 50 health experts to assist with efforts to control the outbreak.


Canada's Public Health Agency is not taking that step just yet, instead recommending travellers practise special precautions, such as getting extra vaccinations. According to its online travel notice, the risk of infection is low for most travellers.


Meanwhile, the health conditions of a U.S. physician and a missionary who contracted Ebola while helping fight an outbreak of the disease that has claimed more than 700 lives in West Africa have worsened, two relief organizations said on Thursday.


Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol are in "stable but grave condition" in Liberia as they battle the deadly virus, according to North Carolina-based Christian relief groups Samaritan's Purse and SIM. Brantly and Writebol were serving in Monrovia, Liberia, as part of a joint team from the two relief organizations.
Public health emergency in Sierra Leone


In Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koroma declared a public health emergency. He vowed to quarantine sick patients at home and have authorities conduct house-to-house searches for others who may have been exposed as the country struggles with families resisting treatment at isolation centres. Some have kept loved ones at home given the high death rates at clinics where Ebola patients are quarantined.


His announcement late Wednesday came as neighbouring Liberia also increased efforts to slow the virulent disease's spread, shutting down schools and ordering most public servants to stay home from work.


"It could be helpful for the government to have powers to isolate and quarantine people and it's certainly better than what's been done so far," said Dr. Heinz Feldmann, chief of virology at U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "Whether it works, we will have to wait and see."


Ebola now has been blamed for 729 deaths in four West African countries this year, and has shown no signs of slowing down, particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It has also reached Nigeria's biggest city Lagos, where authorities said on Friday a man had died of the virus.


On Thursday, the WHO announced 57 new deaths — 27 in Liberia, 20 in Guinea, nine in Sierra Leone and one in Nigeria.


Among the dead was the chief doctor treating Ebola in Sierra Leone, who was to be buried Thursday.


The government said Dr. Sheik Umar Khan's death was "an irreparable loss of this son of the soil." The 39-year-old was a leading doctor on hemorrhagic fevers in a nation with very few medical resources.


In a measure of rising international concern, Britain on Wednesday held a government meeting on Ebola, which it said was a threat it needed to respond to.


But international airlines association IATA said the WHO was not recommending any travel restrictions or border closures owing to the outbreak, and there would be a low risk to other passengers if an Ebola patient flew.


The outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever, for which there is no known cure, began in the forests of remote eastern Guinea in February, but Sierra Leone now has the highest number of cases.


Sierra Leone's Koroma said he would meet with the leaders of Liberia and Guinea in Conakry on Friday to discuss the epidemic and that he was cancelling a visit to Washington for a U.S.-Africa summit next week.
New airport controls


Sierra Leone, a former British colony, said passengers arriving and departing Lungi International Airport would be subject to new protocols, including body temperature scans.


Two regional airlines, Nigeria's Arik and Togo's Asky, have cancelled all flights to Freetown and Monrovia after a U.S. citizen died in Nigeria after contracting the disease in Liberia.


Nigeria's civil aviation authority (NCAA) said on Thursday it had started temperature screening passengers arriving from places at risk from Ebola and had suspended pan-African airline Asky for bringing the first case to Lagos.


Patrick Sawyer, the first recorded case of Ebola in Nigeria, took an Asky flight that stopped in Ghana and Togo, raising questions over how a person whose sister had died of the disease three weeks before was able to board an international flight.


Ghana also said it was immediately introducing body temperature screening of all travellers from West African countries at Accra airport and other major entry points, with isolation centres being set up in three towns.


Kyei Faried, deputy director in charge of disease control, told a news conference that authorities had a list of 11 passengers who disembarked from Sawyer's flight and were monitoring them. The government is considering whether to ban flights from affected countries.


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New Tuberculosis Vaccine under Pre-clinical Tests in Cuba

Cuban scientists are undertaking studies on the effectiveness of a new  candidate vaccine against tuberculosis, a disease considered as  sanitary emergency in the world since 1993.

Doctor Iliana Valdes, from the Havana-based Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute, told reporters that her experts’ team adopted the strategy to use a micro-bacterium isolated in Cuban labs since 1971, which has proven its possible protection against tuberculosis, given the results obtained from tests in animals. “We are now in the pre-clinical stage using lab animals and we still have to go through other models before considering human beings,” said the specialist.

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CUBAN DOCTORS IN BRAZIL: Appreciation, the greatest reward

For those of us who saw the first 1,214 Cuban doctors leave for Brazil in August and September 2013 - as part of the initial group of the Cuban collaborative mission More Doctors together with more than 10,000 who went later - its seems like time has flown by.

This is the sensation we felt this summer when those same doctors began to return home to Cuba for a well deserved holiday. Some couldn’t contain their emotions as they stepped back on Cuban soil, describing their arrival as such, "You feel as though the distance is too great, that a lot of time has passed since the last time you saw your loved ones; that you need to touch your land and embrace the customs of your homeland…"

Work often covers - like a shield - the emptiness created by absence, sometimes minimizing it until the moment of departure. Some manage to contain it until just before landing, from which height they can make out the royal palms which appear slimmer.

Only those who have been far from the country can understand the loneliness one feels, even when surrounded by friends; the weight of separation from family, neighbors; the longing for the safe Cuban streets, the fraternal discussions in Spanish about the latest baseball game; warm nights sitting on the Malecón - awaiting the traditional cannon fire at 9pm - or in the main park of any Cuban town.

Dr. Ivia Ávila Aguilera said, "What keeps us going are their attitude, their appreciation and solidarity despite their poverty." Photo: Jose M. Correa.

All of these large and small voids are filled by the sacred mission to treat, protect and save the most humble people wherever they are, in the most difficult to reach and inhospitable places in any part of the world.

Dr. Iraide Ivette Lozano Hildago, comprehensive family medicine practitioner from the province of Holguín said, "We have had to face, as well as nostalgia for our loved ones, a new language, a new cultural and food situation, diseases which no longer exist in Cuba but are predominant here; but honestly the satisfaction of contributing to healing a person who has never visited a health professional, simply due to the distance of their community, is immense."

Since their arrival in Brazil, Cuban doctors have treated a great number of people with chronic illnesses in advanced stages which had not even been diagnosed.

Dr. Wilma Zamora from Artemisa, despite having participated in previous missions to Guatemala and Bolivia, was impacted upon her arrival to the indigenous region of the Amazon. Photo: Maylin Guerrero Ocaña.

Another important topic, addressed by the Brazilian press, is the impact of Cuban doctor’s treatment on their patients. On this issue, Dr. Ivia Ávila Aguilera, also from Holguín, stationed in the state of Ciará and part of a team which works in seven remote health centers with a population of approximately 1,350 people stated, "Many doctors are working in these conditions. What keeps us going are their attitude, their appreciation and solidarity, despite their poverty. Their way of showing appreciation is sharing with us the little they have, and making us feel more comfortable everyday."

For Dr. Yasmit Aday, who works in the municipality of Joinville (state of Santa Catarina) it has been "a great experience to work in this country, where so much competition exists between the private and public health sectors that sometimes it impacts negatively on the care the people receive. But Dilma Rousseff´s government has been able to bring health care, though this project, with our doctors and those from other places such as Spain, Portugal and Mexico, to this sector which had been neglected," stated Aday.

One of the things which most astounded the majority of doctors interviewed was the social disparity which exists in Brazil. "There are many differences, people with a lot of money and others with nothing, who are isolated and discriminated against. The population is very thankful for and satisfied with our efforts, we treat everyone, without distinction, from the most humble to those from the most privileged class. At the beginning it was difficult, we faced some resistance from some sectors, but little by little we were able to integrate ourselves," stated Dr. Yamila Valdés, who also worked in the state of Santa Catarina, but in the municipality of Jaragua.

Enrique Capote La O believes, "More Doctors is a complete success, because with our presence we have changed the health situation in the most remote and neglected areas." Photo: Maylin Guerrero Ocaña.

Shortly, Dr. Enrique Capote La O, from Santiago de Cuba, will begin counting the days he has left in his home town together with his loved ones - where he arrived after a year of hard work in Macapá, capital city of the state of Amapá, in the Amazon region - but at the same time anxious to continue treating his patients.

Upon his arrival, he reflected on the essence which distinguishes Cuban health professionals: their daily devotion. Therefore, in his opinion More Doctors is a success, "because with our presence we have changed the health situation in the most remote and neglected areas. Upon our arrival certain powerful groups unleashed a media war against our presence and the program implemented by the government of Dilma Rousseff. But the quality of our doctors and the nature of the work which we carry out have quashed this campaign. Reality has demonstrated the importance of More Doctors, and the thousands of people treated are the most concrete testament to this reality."

The opinions of the recent arrivals expressed to the national press reiterate that Cuban doctors enjoy global recognition, not only due to their professional training but also for their human quality and willingness to go to wherever there are those in need.

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Cuban President Raul Castro Inaugurates New Health Research Centers

Cuban President Raul Castro inaugurated Tuesday in Havana the new headquarters of the Centers for State Control of Drugs and the National Coordinator of Clinical Trials.

The Cuban president was accompanied by Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, who cut the inaugural ribbon at the ceremony. The modern facility, with six levels and glass exterior, is located in the western suburbs of the Cuban capital.

Raul Castro and the general directors of WHO and PAHO, the Pan-American Health Organization, were received by directors of the CENCEC, María Amparo Pascual, and CECMED, Rafael Pérez Cristiá.

CECMED has laboratories for quality control of drugs and medical devices that comply with the Standards of Practice established by WHO and PAHO, allowing certification as regional reference center.

Created in 1989, the CECMED's mission is to promote and protect the health of the population through a system of regulation, control and inspection to ensure the safety, efficiency and quality of medicines, medical equipment and devices.

Meanwhile, the National Coordinator of Clinical Trials or CENCEC is responsible for designing and conducting clinical trials of medical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology products, as well as any other health technology, meeting International Standards of Practice. It has 107 employees, of which 72 percent are women and 73 are college-level professionals and technicians.

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Raúl receives directors of the WHO and PAHO

Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and Ministers, received Monday, July 14, Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), during their visit to Cuba to attend the inauguration of the new Centre of State Control of Medicines, Medical Equipment and Devices; and National Coordinating Centre of Clinical Trails, headquarters.

During the fraternal meeting, they discussed aspects relating to the WHO 67th World Health Assembly, held May 2014, in Geneva and presided by Cuba; The Millennium Development Goals; the post 2015 development agenda, as well as, global health coverage. They also talked about the collaboration Cuba offers to other countries, human resource training and the global health situation, in particular in the Americas.

Chan and Etienne were accompanied by José Luis di Fabio, representative of the WHO-PAHO in Cuba, José Ramón Machado Ventura, a vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers, Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla and Roberto Morales Ojeda, Minister of Public Health.

  • Published in Cuba
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