Southern African health ministers form joint task force over Ebola response

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DAR ES SALAAM, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) -- Southern African Development Community (SADC) ministers for health have agreed to form a joint task force to deal with Ebola response and preparedness, an official said on Friday.

Ummy Mwalimu, Tanzania's Minister for Health, said the decision to form the task force was made on Thursday night at the end of a joint meeting of SADC Ministers of Health and HIV/ AIDS in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam.

The decision to form the task force came as Tanzania was reported to be on high risk of Ebola outbreak following the outbreak of the disease in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where a total of 3,228 cases were reported, of which 3,114 confirmed and with 2,123 deaths as of October 13, 2019.

Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tanzania had provided an update on its Ebola preparedness efforts.

The update showed that from August 2018 to date, 29 alerts of Ebola suspect cases were reported, 17 samples tested and were negative for Ebola, including two tests in September 2019.

A statement issued by the UN health agency said the east African nation provided its update on its preparedness efforts, which continued since August 2018, through the Ebola contingency plan, under the leadership of a national task force.

The statement was issued at the end of the meeting of the Emergency Committee convened by the WHO Director-General under the International Health Regulations (IHR) to review the current Ebola virus disease outbreak in the DRC held in Geneva, Switzerland.

The statement said 10 high-risk regions in Tanzania were identified and supported to strengthen cross-border screening and raise awareness at health centers, ensure availability of personal protective equipment especially for health workers.

The 10 regions were also supported to strengthen public awareness of the disease through a toll-free hotline, strengthen the surveillance system, and procure more than 2,700 sets of personnel protective equipment, said the statement.

The statement said thermo scanners were distributed in high-priority points of entry, given the porous borders with more than 700 travelers from the DRC per week, adding that Tanzania continued to practice simulation exercises in five out of 10 regions.

On Oct. 3, Tanzanian health authorities reiterated that there was no Ebola outbreak in the east African country and urged people to trash rumors on social media about the outbreak of the deadly virus.

"There is no Ebola outbreak in Tanzania. The country is safe and people should not be scared with rumors being spread by social media and some international news outlets," the Minister for Health, Ummy Mwalimu, told a news conference in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam.

However, Mwalimu said since there was an outbreak of the virus in neighboring DRC, Tanzania was on high risk and the country had already taken preparedness and response measures.

On Sept. 24, the government of Tanzania summoned the country's WHO representative following a recent statement by the UN health organization that the country was not sharing information on results of recent tests of what was described as a strange disease that killed two people.

Hassan Abbasi, director of information services and government chief spokesperson, said via his official twitter account that the government summoned the WHO envoy to get a detailed report on the agency's complaints through the media.

"The WHO representative has insisted that the UN health agency has no any evidence that there is an Ebola outbreak in Tanzania," said Abbasi.

The WHO had appealed to Tanzanian authorities to share information on results of recent tests of what was described as a strange disease that killed two people in the east African nation.

"The limited available official information from Tanzanian authorities represents a challenge for assessing the risk posed by the disease," said WHO in a statement. Enditem

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