Disease Control

Fighting Ebola: Lessons from the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighbours

Health authorities must define the scale of the outbreak and then break its chains of transmission as quickly as possible.

At least 17 people have died in an outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in the north west of the Democractic Republic of the Congo in the town of Bikoro. Ebola is endemic to the country. But the number of deaths in a short period is cause for concern. The Conversation Africa’s health and medicine editor Candice Bailey spoke to Chikwe Ihekweazu in Nigeria.

What are the critical steps that the DRC needs to take now that the outbreak has been confirmed?
Health authorities have learnt many valuable lessons from previous Ebola outbreaks – particularly the outbreak in 2014 in West Africa where more than 11 000 people died.

Because the DRC has had so many outbreaks it’s developed the capacity to deal with new ones. But, as with every other disease that threatens global health security, it is critical for nearby countries to collaborate with it to ensure the outbreak stays under control.

Bringing the outbreak under control has two important phases. Firstly, health authorities in the country must define its scale. Secondly, they have to interrupt its chains of transmission as quickly as possible.

Our colleagues at the Centre for Disease Control in the DRC are currently evaluating the people who are infected. There are several pieces of information that they want to establish: when and where people were infected, where they they’ve been – or travelled to – since being infected. This will give them a better understanding of the extent of the person-to-person transmission.

Once this has been established, the government can respond. Several control activities will be initiated almost immediately covering both prevention as well as treatment. From a prevention perspective, it’s important for the government to engage with communities so that people understand the outbreak and how quickly the virus is able to spread.

From a treatment perspective, health authorities need to set up treatment centres and access to laboratory diagnosis. Given the death rate, epidemiologists will have to be on hand to carry out detailed investigations on the origins of the outbreak. This is the only way the chain of transmission can be broken.

The DRC has had numerous outbreaks of Ebola. What challenges does the country face handling a virus like this?
The DRC has had more Ebola virus outbreaks than any other country in the world. Over the past 10 years there have been five: 2007, from 2008 to 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2017.

As a result the country has gained a lot of experience in how to control the disease. But there are still many unknowns. One of the most critical gaps is understanding the transmission dynamics of the virus from its animal reservoir to humans.

The country has good systems for diagnosing the disease – its reference laboratory was able to test and confirm cases within 24 hours. But when it comes to surveillance and monitoring its systems are weak. Stronger surveillance systems would ensure that cases were reported early, and a country-led response mounted.

Nigeria is on high alert following the outbreak in the DRC. What are the concerns?Nigeria, as well as other countries in Africa are at medium risk, according to a classification by the World Health Organisation.

Nigeria has learnt that it is better to be prepared than to be caught unaware. To mitigate the risk, the country’s Centre for Disease Control has taken extra precautionary measures. This has included placing its emergency operations centre on alert and issuing a public health advisory. In addition, the national port health services have heightened screening at points of entry.

There are also protocols in place to ensure that if a case is suspected, it’s detected early and response activities are initiated immediately.

It’s important for countries to ensure that their citizens are well aware of the risk the disease poses. Nigerian health authorities are working hard to ensure that this happens.

What steps will Nigeria take to help the DRC?
During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the African Union arranged for health workers from Nigeria to go to Liberia and Sierra Leone. As a result of this initiative, Nigerian health authorities have a large cohort of well-trained resources that can be deployed to support the country if that’s needed.

Chikwe Ihekweazu is senior honorary lecturer on Infectious Diseases, UCL.

This article was first published at The Conversation.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Decoding the symbolic threads and badges of one of India’s oldest cavalry units

The untold story of The President’s Bodyguard.

The national emblem of India; an open parachute and crossed lances – this triad of symbols representing the nation, excellence in training and valor respectively are held together by an elite title in the Indian army – The President’s Bodyguard (PBG).

The PBG badge is worn by one of the oldest cavalry units in the India army. In 1773, Governor Warren Hastings, former Governor General of India, handpicked 50 troopers. Before independence, this unit was referred to by many titles including Troops of Horse Guards and Governor General’s Body Guards (GGBG). In 1950, the unit was named The President’s Bodyguard and can be seen embroidered in the curved maroon shoulder titles on their current uniforms.

The President’s Bodyguard’s uniform adorns itself with proud colours and symbols of its 245 year-old-legacy. Dating back to 1980, the ceremonial uniform consists of a bright red long coat with gold girdles and white breeches, a blue and gold ceremonial turban with a distinctive fan and Napoleon Boots with spurs. Each member of the mounted unit carries a special 3-meter-long bamboo cavalry lance, decorated by a red and white pennant. A sheathed cavalry sabre is carried in in the side of the saddle of each trooper.

While common perception is that the PBG mainly have ceremonial duties such as that of being the President’s escort during Republic Day parade, the fact is that the members of the PBG are highly trained. Handpicked by the President’s Secretariat from mainstream armored regiments, the unit assigns a task force regularly for Siachen and UN peace keeping operations. Moreover, the cavalry members are trained combat parachutists – thus decorating the PBG uniform with a scarlet Para Wings badge that signifies that these troopers are a part of the airborne battalion of the India Army.

Since their foundation, the President’s Guard has won many battle honors. In 1811, they won their first battle honor ‘Java’. In 1824, they sailed over Kalla Pani for the first Burmese War and earned the second battle honour ‘Ava’. The battle of Maharajapore in 1843 won them their third battle honor. Consequently, the PBG fought in the main battles of the First Sikh War and earned four battle honours. Post-independence, the PBG served the country in the 1962 Indo-China war and the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

The PBG, one of the senior most regiments of the Indian Army, is a unique unit. While the uniform is befitting of its traditional and ceremonial role, the badges that augment those threads, tell the story of its impressive history and victories.

How have they managed to maintain their customs for more than 2 centuries? A National Geographic exclusive captures the PBG’s untold story. The documentary series showcases the discipline that goes into making the ceremonial protectors of the supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces.

Play

The National Geographic exclusive is a landmark in television and is being celebrated by the #untoldstory contest. The contest will give 5 lucky winners an exclusive pass to the pre-screening of the documentary with the Hon’ble President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. You can also nominate someone you think deserves to be a part of the screening. Follow #UntoldStory on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to participate.

This article was produced by Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic and not by the Scroll editorial team.