BEIJING – The health ministry says although Namibia has not yet reported cases of the extremely dangerous Marburg virus, there is a need to be on high alert and vigilance, especially at the main border crossings, as well as in public and private facilities.
On 21 March 2023, the Tanzanian health ministry declared an outbreak of the Marburg virus disease (MVD) in the east African country. As of 22 March 2033, eight cases, including five deaths, have been reported.
“Namibia has not detected any cases of the Marburg viral disease to date. However, due to increased activity related to international travel and trade, population displacement and migration, the country remains at risk of importation of Marburg Viral Disease,” informed health ministry executive director Ben Nangombe.
He said the Marburg viral disease is similar to the Ebola viral disease in that they cause haemorrhagic fevers.
The reservoir for the Marburg Virus is a type of fruit bat that resides in tropical forests and caves mainly in Africa. The virus infects non-human primates and humans when they get in contact with the fruit bats that carry the virus.
Nangombe added: “Taking cognizance of the risk of importation of infected cases in the country through the border crossings, the ministry will be strengthening the health screening for all incoming travellers at international airports and at main ground crossings, as well as the adherence to Infection Prevention and Control Standard Operating Procedures in public and private health facilities”.
Considering that healthcare providers are also exposed, Nangombe said they will be trained on case detection and management of the viral disease.
Additional interventions include the activation of disease surveillance and laboratory systems for prompt detection and containment in the event of an outbreak.
“Community education and activation of Emergency Operations Call Centre will also take place. The public is urged to remain calm while the ministry is activating the preparedness and readiness,” Nangombe pleaded.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that the Marburg virus infection often results from prolonged exposure to mines or caves inhabited by Rousettus bat colonies.
Once an individual is infected with the virus, it can spread through human-to-human transmission via direct contact with the blood, secretions or other body fluids of infected or deceased people.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said attempts by Tanzania’s health authorities to establish the cause of the disease is a clear indication of the determination to effectively respond to the outbreak.
“We are working with the government to rapidly scale up control measures to halt the spread of the virus and end the outbreak as soon as possible,” said Moeti.
Tanzania has never previously recorded a Marburg case, but it has had to respond to other health emergencies, including Covid-19, including cholera and dengue fever, within the past three years.
A strategic risk assessment conducted by WHO in September 2022 showed the country is at high-to-high risk for infectious disease outbreaks.
“The lessons learned and progress made during other recent outbreaks should stand the country in good stead, as it confronts this latest challenge. We will continue to work closely with the national health authorities to save lives,” stated the public health specialist.
The WHO outlines that illnesses caused by Marburg virus begin abruptly, with high fever, severe headache and severe malaise. Many patients develop severe haemorrhagic symptoms within seven days.
Additionally, there are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved to treat the virus.
Despite that setback, supportive care – rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids – and treatment of specific symptoms, improves survival chances.