15 Mar 2023

Acting early to minimize the impacts of the Marburg virus

During the last month, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon have been trying to contain an outbreak of the Marburg virus disease. Thanks to funding from the Anticipatory Pillar of the IFRC’s Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF), the Cameroon Red Cross and the Gabonese Red Cross are now implementing measures to prevent the spread of this devastating disease, and to minimize its impacts.

Marburg is a deadly disease with a fatality ratio of up to 88 per cent, according to the WHO. It is also highly transmittable between people: early diagnosis is difficult and it has an incubation time of 21 days, meaning contact cases can spread quickly. The first recorded case in the region was on 13 February 2023 in Equatorial Guinea and there have been further cases since then.

There are often extremely high levels of population movement across the borders between the three countries, and this movement is often uncontrolled. Crossing points therefore represent a major source of potential transmissions throughout the region. To counter this, the National Societies will implement a series of activities to prepare for and reduce the impacts of a potential wider outbreak. These will focus on: (1) early detection of suspected cases; (2) preventing the spread of Marburg by ensuring the National Societies are prepared for its impacts; and (3) raising awareness and providing information to communities at risk.

In Cameroon, specific activities include:

  • campaigns to reinforce people's knowledge of Marburg, including information for religious, traditional and administrative leaders
  •  hand-washing points in areas where there are high numbers of people in transit
  • hygiene promotion and prevention messages
  • preparation for safe and dignified burials for those who die from the disease.

In Gabon, the focus is on epidemiological surveillance, hygiene and sanitation, diagnosis, risk communication and community engagement. Specifically, the Gabonese Red Cross will:

  • provide training on disease surveillance
  • set up a national operations command post, made up of around ten people
  • activate the national disaster-response team.

The DREF funding provided is 149,706 Swiss francs (164,267 US dollars / 153,106 euros) for Cameroon, which will support 143,952 people. In Gabon, the figures are 149,282 Swiss francs (1630,777 US dollars / 152,652 euros) to support 141,887 people. Both allocations will support activities for three months.

Photo: Oyem, Gabon, near the border with Equatorial Guinea. © D. Julien / Flickr, reproduced under license CC BY-NC 2.0