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[BLANTYRE CITY, MALAWI] Zambia has begun training healthcare workers in provinces that border the Democratic Republic of Congo so that rapid response teams have the necessary skills to prepare and respond to an Ebola outbreak.

The effort follows continuing outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the threat it poses to neighbouring Zambia. The outbreak has resulted in 106 deaths out of 162 confirmed cases as of last week (2 October), according to the WHO.

“We do not want a repeat of the tragedy that hit the Western part of our continent in 2014.”

Victor Mukonka, Zambia National Public Health Institute

Building capacity to prepare and respond to health emergencies is critical,” says Victor Mukonka, a public health expert who is also director of the Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI). “We do not want a repeat of the tragedy that hit the Western part of our continent in 2014. The trained rapid response teams at all levels assures a good response capacity for any community and we encourage all member states to take up this strategy.”

The Ministry of Health through the ZNPHI trained 216 health workers in North-Western and Copperbelt provinces last month (1-8 September) while 86 were trained in the Northern and Luapula provinces on 13-18 August.

Those trained include environmental health officers, doctors, nurses, public health officers, pharmacists and laboratory personnel.
Ebola in DRC Infographic 2
There is a need to strengthen surveillance and collaboration between the two countries because of increased cross-border movements, says Nathan Bakyaita, Zambia WHO representative, in a statement from the WHO Africa region.

Mazyanga Lucy Mazaba Liwewe, head of ZNPHI’s health information system, tells SciDev.Net, “The focus of the training is to… have necessary health information on Ebola for risk communication, infection prevention, specimen collection and referral, surveillance as well as clinical case management.”

According to Ante Mutati, a provincial surveillance officer for Luapula and a training participant, as frontline healthcare workers they are to educate the other team members on how to tackle Ebola outbreaks. Mukonka calls for the need to collaborate to fight the preventable scourge affecting the continent by tapping existing platforms and in a multi-sectoral manner, taking into account the comparative advantage each sector and each country has.

“It is important that Africa takes ownership and leads in addressing matters of health and other determinants affecting the continent,” he tells SciDev.Net.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.