Teams Back In Panicked Virus Zone

A hospital in Uige, the provice in north Angola along the Congo border where the Marburg outbreak was first reported. AP (file)

The World Health Organization has resumed operations in a western Angolan province hit by a deadly Ebola-like virus, after suspending work last week when residents attacked its teams, the WHO said Sunday.

Residents in Uige province had mistakenly feared the WHO teams were spreading — instead of helping contain — the rare Marburg virus, which has killed 184 people out of a total 200 people infected, WHO's spokesman in Angola Dave Daigle told the Associated Press by phone.

"Three teams have already resumed activities and are now following up on anyone who had contact with infected people recently," Daigle said.

Daigle said the WHO had launched an education campaign to help contain the virus and prevent a recurrence of Thursday's attacks.

"We're doing radio announcements, meeting with Church leaders and local authorities, to reach out to people and not only explain to them what we're doing but get their support," Daigle said.

Meanwhile Doctors Without Borders, a global relief organization that runs an isolation ward at the hospital for victims of the virus, has advised that the hospital should be closed to contain the spreading of the virus.

The organization's emergency coordinator in Uige, Monica de Castellarnau, who characterized the situation as "very worrying," said on Sunday the recommendation stood. "We have been talking to the health minister and making a strong recommendation that the hospital be shut down temporarily, until the outbreak is controlled," Castellarnau told the AP by phone.

A health official told The New York Times that more than a dozen health care workers have been killed by the virus, including two doctors, and that many workers are quitting the town's hospital to protect their lives.

She said Doctors Without Borders was also attacked on Thursday and said hostility toward medical workers was due to a lack of information.

"We are doing the best to inform people because they are afraid and not only become hostile but fail to report cases of the disease to us, making it harder to contain the virus," she said.

Like Ebola, which also has hit Africa, Marburg is a hemorrhagic fever. It spreads through contact with bodily fluids and can kill rapidly. There is no vaccine.

Several deaths attributed to the virus have been reported in four other provinces, but the only confirmed Marburg deaths can be traced back to Uige.

Two cases have been confirmed in Angola's capital, Luanda, but there has been no transmission of the virus there. The WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Doctors Without Borders have deployed teams in Uige to combat the virus.

The worst previously recorded outbreak of the virus killed 123 people in neighboring Congo between 1998 and 2000, the last known outbreak of Marburg.
  • Chris Hawke

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