Healthcare in Africa made huge strides in reducing malaria deaths below half a million this year but still faced challenges fighting the elusive Ebola virus which has claimed over 11,000 lives. The outbreak in West Africa has exposed major gaps in development aid, prompting a rethink of the balance between building health systems and tackling specific diseases like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA (REUTERS) – Thee Groote Schuur Hospital in South Africa made history this year, when it became the first hospital in Africa to implant the world’s smallest pacemaker known as the Medtronic Micra Transcatheter Pacing System (TPS).
The device was implanted as part of a global pivotal clinical trial. Pacemakers help the heart beat more regularly and offer a lifeline for many patients with cardiac problems.
This new miniaturised technology is designed to provide patients with the advanced pacing technology of traditional pacemakers via a minimally invasive approach.
“We give local anesthetic over the right groin area, through the groin area we insert a sheath and through the sheath there is a delivery system that deploys the leadless pacemaker into the heart and the device is positioned into the right ventricular apex and can be re-positioned a few times to make sure it’s in a good position, once its positioned the device is left there and the delivery system is removed,” said Doctor Ashley Chin a cardiologist and electrophysiologist, at the Hospital.
In Uganda, child deaths had fallen faster in Kampala than in any other African city, despite a large influx of refugees from neighboring states facing conflict.
Healthcare centres like Kisenyi were credited for partly contributing to this by providing free maternal services in a well equipped centre and encouraging expectant mothers to seek antenatal care.
Esther Kabumo, a refugee from Congo came to the Kisenyi health centre to have her baby.
“We are happy because they welcome everyone without discrimination. They treat everyone equally. If you don’t have money to buy medicine, they take care of you. There is no problem here. That is why we are happy to come here,” she said.
In October, the month set aside by advocacy groups to focus on cancer and support efforts to fight the disease, Nigerians made a Guinness World record attempt to break a Guinness world record as part of cancer campaigns by forming the largest human pink ribbon in the world.
Majority of cancer cases are now occurring in the developing world where effective treatment and detection remain inaccessible for most.
“I came for this event because I lost my aunt to cancer and my mom is also a proud survivor of cancer. Cancer is a monster I feel that we need really need to fight in Nigeria and I was actually proud to be a part of this formation,” said Tarere Obaigbo, a Participant at the event.
Malaria cases dropped below half a million in the past year, reflecting vast progress against the mosquito-borne disease in some of the previously hardest-hit areas of sub-Saharan Africa.
The World Health Organization’s annual malaria report showed deaths falling to 438,000 in 2015 – down dramatically from 839,000 in 2000 – and found a significant increase in the number of countries moving toward the elimination of malaria.
Malaria prevention measures – such as bednets and indoor and outdoor spraying – have averted millions of deaths and saved millions of dollars in healthcare costs over the past 14 years in many African countries.
“There has been a 37 percent decrease in malaria cases over the last 15 years, and that mortality has fallen by 60 percent among all age groups. And this has resulted in an estimate of 6.2 million lives saved over the last 15 years,” said Doctor Pedro Alonso, director, WHO Global Malaria Programme.
In West Africa, for the first time since the start of the Ebola outbreak, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone conducted major nationwide immunization campaigns to protect millions of children against preventable but potentially deadly diseases.
The three countries worst affected by Ebola vaccinated more than three million children against diseases such as measles and polio.
Vaccination coverage was reduced previously as health clinics and healthcare workers focused on fighting the unprecedented outbreak of the virus.
“Because of Ebola, the community is wary. People are afraid to go to a health center because they think they might be suspected of having Ebola. But today, thanks to the sensitization that has been done, they have come to receive their vaccinations,” said Sarah Kaba, head of a village health center in Liberia.
Ebola remained a health concern on the continent as scientists and health workers battled the virus that has killed over 11,000 people.
The epidemic began when a 2-year-old boy fell ill in a remote Guinean village on December 26, 2013, and now risks dragging into 2016.
We met an Ebola survivor and nurse, Siah Tamba in Liberia who recovered from the virus. She usally gives much needed close-contact care and support to victims of the disease in Liberia.
Having beaten the disease, Siah is believed to have immunity from Ebola.
“As a survivor I know what Ebola means, more than you who is
standing there, that I have now really gone through that struggle. You see, by you working in this kind of place, in the ETU, giving care, taking care of the Ebola patients, you do so many works. You can start as a psychosocial giving them courage, giving them hope,” said Siah.
Rosanda village in northern Sierra Leone had been placed under quarantine after a new suspected case of Ebola was reported. A group known as “Hotspot Busters” went out at the time to create awareness about the virus, educating the community on how to minimize the damaging effects of this epidemic.
“The Hotspot Busters have created, through the support of UNICEF, awareness to the community’s people. Now they are aware that whenever someone is sick or someone complains of anything, they call immediately the hotline,” said Anthony Sesay, the northern region coordinator for health for all Coalition.
In March Liberians marked Decoration Day, when relatives honor the dead by laying flowers and spending time at their graves. It was a time for those who lost their loved ones to Ebola to seek some closure – many victims are cremated or buried in mass graves without funerals to avoid the risk of spreading infection through the highly contagious bodies, Almost 10,000 people had died in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia at the time.
“They was burning people at first, we never thought about grave. But for now for us here we have got grave and transferring those bodies here really it’s something great,” said Donwon Dahn, an Ebola Survivor.
On November 28, a one-month-old baby girl named Nubia, who was Guinea’s last reported Ebola case left hospital delighting medical staff and putting the country on course to be declared free of the virus.
Guinea will become officially Ebola-free after 42 days if no new cases are reported following the recovery of baby Nubia — said to be the first baby to survive, after being born to an infected mother.
Nubia’s mother didn’t survive the virus. The baby was handed over to her family who came to meet her for the first time.
“I am happy today, because since her birth I have never seen her. Today, thanks to God for putting her in the hands of these doctors here who took care of her and she will be released. It makes me happy – and it makes the people of Guinea happy,” said Saidouba Soumatt, Nubia’s Father.
Nubia, who was born Ebola-positive and named after an MSF nurse, was able to survive due to experimental drugs as well as round-the-clock care given by a 20-strong team.
Scientists are closely monitoring the virus and warn that Ebola can lie dormant and hide in parts of the body such as the eyes and testicles, and rare cases of the virus re-emerging have been reported.
A new outbreak has been reported in Liberia months after the country was declared free of the virus thought to have stemmed from a survivor who became infectious again after her immune system was weakened by pregnancy.