By Sharon Atieno

Inadequate funding threatens Ebola preparedness in Africa. The World Health Organization cautions that the lack of funding has reached a crucial juncture.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa during the press briefing

“Despite the crucial nature of Ebola preparedness funding, we are regretting the fact that funding for this aspect of the work has slowed down,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa during in a press briefing.

“So over the last few 4 months we have received relatively little funding for continuing the Ebola preparedness in the surrounding countries and actually have about 40 percent funding gap in relation to the amount that the WHO had estimated is necessary,” she adds.

With the response to the Ebola virus disease outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) proving uniquely complex, the WHO prioritized nine countries sharing its borders with DRC. These being: Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda, Angola, Central Africa Republic (CAR), Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia.

The budget in these four most at-risk countries (Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda) was nearly USD 70 million over the past year. Currently, the funding is at 60 percent going forward in to the next six months.

As of 19th June, there have been a total of 2204 cases (2110 confirmed and 94 probable), including 1479 deaths. In Uganda, the three confirmed cases died.

However, there has been no confirmed case since then as the four remaining suspect cases tested negative. A total of 106 contacts of the three confirmed cases had been listed and follow up of the contacts initiated. A total of 135 contacts and contacts of contacts have been vaccinated so far.

The preparedness work is to ensure that countries have put in place systems which allow them to detect, investigate and report potential Ebola cases, as well as treat any confirmed cases.

At least one Ebola Treatment Centre and multiple isolation units have been established in all the nine neighbouring countries. Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda have vaccinated more than 9000 health workers while Burundi is finalizing preparations for vaccinations. The others are ongoing approval for the Ebola vaccines.

Moreover, the East African Community, Kenya, Tanzania and WHO have just wrapped up a simulation exercise involving 150 experts on the Kenya-Tanzania Border. The exercise identified strengths (rapid response to alerts, timely communication) but also weaknesses (efficiency of ambulances at points of entry, more effective communication) which need to be improved to improve countries response to outbreaks like Ebola.

WHO has supported full scale simulation exercises to test readiness for Ebola in Rwanda and Uganda; and is planning similar exercises in seven other countries at high risk and is ready to support all countries to conduct such exercises.

In addition, functional public health emergency operations centres have been established in six countries and 350 experts trained to be part of rapid response teams.