Johannesburg - South Africa will be sending a unique diagnostic mobile laboratory to West Africa later this month to help in the fight against the deadly Ebola virus.
This was announced by Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi on Wednesday following an extraordinary meeting between the Southern African Development Community’s health ministers.
The meeting – held in Kempton Park – was for the ministers to deliberate on the state of readiness of the 15 member states in the SADC region to respond to an outbreak of Ebola and develop a common approach.
The region currently has no reported outbreak.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced on Wednesday that the death toll in West Africa had risen to 932.
Ebola symptoms include bleeding, diarrhoea, headaches and vomiting.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) will be spearheading the deployment of the lab, which consists of basic diagnostic equipment, protective equipment for doctors and health-care workers, as well as basic sanitation essentials such as soap.
“SADC does not really need a mobile lab. The mobile lab is specifically designed to respond in very remote areas, where access is problematic,” said Professor Janusz Paweska, the NICD’s head of the centre of emerging and zoonotic diseases.
Paweska will be leading a team of three other staff members from the NICD to West Africa to deploy the lab. They are awaiting confirmation for a date of departure from the WHO, but the provisional date is August 17.
Paweska also said Sierra Leone would probably be where the team would be sent as it had seen the highest number of deaths related to the virus of any nation. He said, however, it depended on the need. They could also be sent to Liberia.
The labs – depending on the type of equipment present – cost between R2 million and R3m.
It was also announced on Wednesday by SADC chairwoman Dr Jean Kalilani that South Africa would be the centre of excellence in Ebola lab diagnosis in the region. This, too, will be headed by the NICD.
Paweska said the government had pledged financial support to the institute to fulfil this mandate.
Based on the recommendations agreed upon by the member states, South Africa would also beef up its readiness at hospitals if an outbreak occurred.
In Gauteng, Motsoaledi said Charlotte Maxeke Academic as well as Steve Biko Academic hospitals would be earmarked for such preparations and equipped to be ready to deal with patients presenting with Ebola symptoms.
During Wednesday’s meeting, member states agreed on SADC’s various recommendations on, among others, the regional response to an outbreak; what the WHO should help SADC states with; and what states should do to increase awareness and readiness.
Asked if he and his team felt apprehensive or scared about travelling to West Africa, Paweska said: “There’s always a concern… One has to consult one’s family.”