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West Africa battles mystery of ‘post-Ebola syndrome’

Fola Akintomide

As the Ebola epidemic retreats across west Africa, international health authorities are turning their attention to the little understood long-term effects of the often-deadly virus on the survivors.

There is little research on patients cured of the tropical fever, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged that many are experiencing crippling complications long after walking out of treatment units.

Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s new head in Africa, told AFP that Liberian survivors had been reporting a range of problems, including sight and hearing impairment.

“We need to be aware that [complications] may be occurring and pay attention when people are being treated in case there is something that can be done to help them,” she told AFP in the Liberian capital Monrovia.

Worst ever outbreak

Moeti said the UN agency had initially focused on keeping people alive in its battle against the worst ever outbreak of the virus, which it says has left almost 11 000 people dead in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

“So we are very much learning about this,” Moeti told AFP.

More than 26 000 people have been infected with Ebola since the outbreak began in December 2013, according to the WHO, which admits the official mortality figures are probably some way short of the real death toll.

The epidemic ravaged the three countries, infecting hundreds of people a week during its peak last autumn, but the spread has slowed to a crawl.

Liberia, once the hardest hit country, has reported no new cases since the last patient died on March 27 and was buried a day later.