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News for the Week of May 10, 1999
May 10, 1999
Deadly Marburg Virus Discovered in Congo
An MSF team has been investigating reports of a deadly hemorrhagic fever that has so far taken the lives of 59 of the 78 patients in the town of Durba, in the Watsa region of Congo. After collecting and analyzing samples of the virus, the team of has identified a case of Marburg virus, an extremely rare and fatal disease, as the cause of death of one victim. There is strong evidence that the disease is the cause of the outbreak. MSF continues to examine blood samples from other patients. The symptoms—fever and massive hemmorrhaging—led many to suspect ebola as the cause of the epidemic that began in March. Marburg virus belongs to the filovirus family, the same family of viruses as ebola. Most of the victims of the current outbreak are men, who have worked in the extremely unhygienic conditions in abandoned gold mines in Durba in the north of Congo. MSF has set up an isolation unit to care for patients in Durba. "We have also provided information and advice to the authorities and the general public in the towns of Durba and Watsa," says Richard Bedell, medical advisor in Amsterdam, "Medical personnel in direct contact with patients have now been informed and given protective clothing and footwear so as not become infected themselves."
Genocide in Rwanda Commemorated
On April 6, 1999, MSF launched memorial activities for the mass slaughter that claimed more than a half-million lives in Rwanda five years ago. MSF remembered the victims of the genocide with a roundtable debate in Paris led by MSF founder Rony Brauman. In Belgium and in the Netherlands, MSF has organized an exhibition of photographs and testimonies from survivors and perpetrators of the genocide that will travel for 100 days—the duration of the killings in Rwanda.
Cholera Hits Northern Nigeria
Cholera has broken out in the city of Kano in northern Nigeria. Since March 24, when the first cases of the disease were detected, 540 cases of cholera have been registered. The disease has claimed 27 lives. MSF has set up a cholera treatment center at a hospital in Kano, where 20 to 30 patients can be treated per day. Two additional treatment centers have been set up in Kano, where a sugar and salt solution - called oral rehydration solution (ORS) - is distributed to treat patients. A strike of government employees in public hospitals in Kano has further complicated efforts to control the disease. MSF successfully negotiated with local trade unions to persuade nursing personnel in Kano to return to work to fight the cholera outbreak. Four MSF international volunteers are currently working with 45 Nigerian staff on the cholera outbreak. In early April, the Yobe state in northeastern Nigeria, a four-hour drive from Kano, was hit by meningitis. MSF set up vaccination teams and vaccinated more than 7,800 people in isolated villages in the state.
Cholera Treatment in Southern Sudan
MSF has set up cholera treatment centers to control an outbreak in the town of Jonglei in southern Sudan. MSF has also set up treatment centers in the towns of Akobo and Wanding, which have populations of 50,000 and 20,000 respectively. In Akobo, 505 cholera cases were reported from April 6 to April 20, and nine patients have died. A separate feeding center has been set up for children under five who have recovered from the disease but who have lost a great deal of weight. MSF is also providing clean drinking water to the inhabitants of Akobo and has initiated a public hygiene education campaign. An MSF team of 13 international volunteers and 105 local staff are currently working to control cholera in southern Sudan.
TB Program Launched in Southwestern China
MSF has set up a tuberculosis treatment program in Yunnan province in southwestern China. Located in Nujiang prefecture, in a remote, mountainous region on the border between Myanmar and Tibet, the program aims to tackle the alarming growth in the number of TB cases among minorities in the region. Thirteen different ethnic minorities make up about 92 percent of the population in Nujiang. Working together with local health authorities, MSF will treat tuberculosis using the DOTS (Directly Observed Therapy) method. TB departments and sputum laboratories are being set up in local public health bureaus and local medical staff will be trained in the DOTS protocol. The program will also involve development of TB control guidelines, together with a special TB publicity campaign. Free diagnostic and treatment services will be provided to a target population of 120,000 people in the regions of Gongshan and Fugong.
Primary Health Care Initiative in Southern Mexico
MSF has set up a project in the Mixteca region in the southern state of Oaxaca in Mexico to provide primary health care to the indigenous population. The project targets some 17,000 people living in 60 widely dispersed communities that are not currently receiving adequate medical services. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, MSF has selected and trained 6 doctors, 6 health promoters, and 10 nurses to help launch the project. MSF previously worked in the region in 1997 following the widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Pauline.
Preparations for New Refugee Influx in Zambia
Fighting in the border regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia has intensified in the past week. MSF relief workers fear that if the Congolese town of Pweto falls into rebel hands there will be a new flow of refugees towards Zambia, heading for the Chiengi border crossing. MSF is working with other aid organizations to assess the need for a new reception camp in Kala, in the province of Lua Pula, in preparation for the possible influx of 50,000 new refugees. MSF currently operates in a transit camp near Kaputa on the border, and in the Mwange camp farther inland. Due to the increase in fighting in the border area, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is hastening to transport refugees from Kaputa to the Mwange camp. Some 600 refugees per day are being carried to Mwange by coach, ferry, and truck. At present there are still some 10,000 refugees in the Kaputa camp, and some 6,000 have already arrived in the Mwange camp. After being registered in Mwange, each family of five people is assigned a piece of ground where they can build temporary accommodation for themselves. In the Mwange camp, MSF has set up a health post to provide basic health care and is building water and sanitation facilities. A total of nine MSF international volunteers are operating in the region in conjunction with hundreds of volunteers from the Zambian Red Cross.