By Macarena Aguilar
LUANDA, Angola, 8 April 2005 – The United Nations appealed urgently today for funds to step up the fight against the Marburg outbreak in Angola, which is the largest such outbreak ever recorded.
The $3.5 million requested in the appeal will enable UN agencies, including WHO, UNICEF and WFP, to support the Angolan government in strengthening efforts to control the outbreak. Objectives include early detection and isolation of cases, rapid tracing of Marburg close contacts, and the implementation of measures to prevent the disease from spreading.
The outbreak began in October and has been steadily escalating. As of 7 April, 200 cases have been identified and 174 people have died. Most of the infections involved children.
UN agencies will work with Médecins sans frontières and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, USA, to attempt to curb the disease, which has no known cure or vaccine.
“The mobilization of experts and equipment of recent weeks has been rapid, impressive and highly valued,” said UN Resident Coordinator in Angola Pierre-François Pirlot. “But the epidemic will require an all-out effort from all parties involved if it is to be controlled.”
The money will be used to organize a surveillance and early detection network in areas untouched by the virus. Isolation units and field laboratories will help reduce the fatality rate. A mass media campaign will educate the public about how to protect themselves.
Marburg is an Ebola-like virus that is transmitted by contact with bodily fluids. Symptoms include high fever, haemorrhages, vomiting and diarrhoea. A previous outbreak in 1998-2000 in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo claimed 123 lives.
The epicentre of the outbreak is Uige province. Although cases have now been confirmed in three other provinces (Luanda, Cabinda and Kwanza Norte), they all originated in Uige.
“Some days ago there was a panic situation but now people are quite calm,” said UNICEF’s Teca Garcia in the provincial capital, which is also called Uige. “One of most important things now is that people take precautions in terms of basic hygiene.”