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Ebola Experts Warn Against Complacency, Immunity to Disease

H.E. Bockari Stevens, Sierra Leone's ambassador to the United States, chats with Malonga Miatudila, a physician and Ebola expert, at VOA in Washington, Nov. 19, 2014.

More than 5,000 people have reportedly died from Ebola, most from the west African countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Despite efforts to contain it, the disease, first identified in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), then known as Zaire, has continued to spread, causing panic around the world.

Dr. Malonga Miatudila, a native of DRC, who was part of the international team that identified the disease in 1976, describes the disease as a terrorist.

“You have to see Ebola as a terrorist, who is waging a guerilla-type of war. So it will come, and if you are ready, you’ll contain it, it goes. And then it’ll come back again to hit you, and then it disappears. It does that,” he said.

Dr. Malonga, who participated in a town hall on Ebola, hosted by the Voice of America, said to stop the disease from spreading, reaction has to be quick. He said this is partly why some West African countries were hit hard by the latest Ebola outbreak, considered the worst in the disease’s history.

“I think we passed through a period of denial. Because we said again, this is west Africa, so we said, no it cannot be that.”

To effectively contain Ebola, Dr. Miatudila said, all countries, even those that have not had cases of Ebola, such as Zimbabwe, have to be proactive. “Now, we should become aware that Ebola is not a disease of the others.”

Dr. Miatudila warns nations and people in general against believing they are immune to catching Ebola, as was the case with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“Do you remember when AIDS started? The mood was oh, AIDS is a problem of those people, homosexuals, so that means I’m immune to AIDS,” said, adding “the history showed us that AIDS attacks everybody.”

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Heeding this call, Zimbabwe’s health officials say they are taking all necessary steps to prevent an Ebola outbreak in the southern African country.

However, despite the caution, Dr. Portia Manangazira, an epidemiology director in the Health Ministry, and Deputy Health Minister Paul Chimedza, said they fear Ebola entering the country through open borders.

Addressing a meeting on Ebola, in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo, Dr. Manangazire and Dr. Chimedza said Harare was concerned by the large number of people, including asylum seekers from the DRC, who were entering the country illegally through the open borders.

They said by coming in unchecked, those who jumb the border, forgo the stringent screening given at various ports of entry, aimed at detecting symptoms of Ebola, early.

Meanwhile, efforts by the World Health Organization and the Zimbabwean government to recruit health professionals to help treat Ebola patients in affected west African countries, seem to have little success.

Some of the country’s junior, middle level, and senior doctors who embarked on a three-week strike over poor pay and working conditions, are reportedly turning down the offer of close to US$1,000 a day.

“The money is quite attractive to a Zimbabwean, but you have to pay for your life, you know,” said Dr. Trevor Moyo, who practices in Bulawayo.

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