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March 26, 2015

Ghana as a Hub Country for Ebola Countermeasures in West Africa

photoThe map shows the countries with Ebola cases in West Africa. The cases in Senegal, Nigeria and Mali have been contained (according to the World Health Organization).

Ebola has been on the rampage in West Africa since the end of August 2014. Senegal, Nigeria and Mali, where Ebola had not widely spread compared to other countries, were eventually declared Ebola-free on Jan. 18, 2015. Whist, in the three most-affected countries, namely Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where more than 8,000 had been killed, there have been fewer than 100 new confirmed cases reported in a week for the first time since its epidemic according to a report by the World Health Organization (as of Jan. 28). Even though the spread has slowed, the acute situation continues.

Ghana is located close to the countries where Ebola cases were found, and it is taking an important role in the fight against Ebola in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The United Nations established its head office for “the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER)” in Ghana. UNMEER is controlling Ebola countermeasures in West Africa and also handling emergency supplies delivered from Japan and other countries. Both the Japanese Embassy and JICA office in Ghana administer Japanese government’s activities in Liberia and Sierra Leone, therefore, they contribute to providing support for both countries.

In Ghana, no Ebola cases have been reported. However, it is said that its infectious risk of Ebola is the highest because the flow of people over borders is high (2). An institution has been collecting more than 100 blood samples of suspected Ebola cases all over the country. This institution is the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), University of Ghana, built 35 years ago with Japanese cooperation.

Hideyo Noguchi’s sense of mission lives on in Ghana

photoThe Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) was built with grant aid from Japan
(Photo: Takashi Kuno)

Hideyo Noguchi is the figure printed on the one thousand Japanese yen bill. About 100 years ago he went to Ghana without his family and devoted himself to research on yellow fever. Unfortunately, he came down with this disease and his life ended in Ghana. To praise his achievement, the NMIMR was built as a basic medical research institute, with grant aid from Japan.

After completion of the NMIMR, JICA supported basic medical research in Ghana from the bottom up, by implementing technical cooperation projects on the prevention of several infections. Today, the NMIMR has developed to the point of engaging in cooperative research with other research institutions, and also having exchanges with Japanese universities.

Since 2010, together with Tokyo Medical and Dental University and Nagasaki International University, the NMIMR has been working on a project called “Studies of Anti-viral and Anti-parasitic Compounds from Selected Ghanaian Medicinal Plants,” which is a scientific cooperative project under the Science and Technology Research Partnership (SATREPS) between JICA and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). With the completed projects, JICA has sent experts to Ghana with the cooperation of Japanese universities, while a number of Ghanaian researchers went to Japan to obtain master’s degrees or doctoral degrees.

William Kwabena Ampofo, professor, head of Virology Department of the NMIMR, completed his doctorates at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University. He acts as an adviser for the emergency committee of the World Health Organization Ebola disease. And he is also offering technical support for Guinea, where Ebola has spread widely.

Supporting the production of a documentary presenting Ebola inspection system at Noguchi Institute

photoAmbassador Kaoru Yoshimura, Japanese Embassy to Ghana, right, hands over sets of preventive kit for inspection to Professor Kwadwo Koram, director of the NMIMR, left.
Professor William Kwabena Ampofo, head of Virology Department, stands, second from the left.

The NMIMR contributes to Ebola prevention in Ghana, as the only institute registered for Ebola inspection by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, at one point, residents living in the vicinity of the Institute raised serious questions about possible infection by specimens being brought.

To dispel their concerns, the NMIMR has produced a 15 minutes of documentary footage to show how inspections are conducted within the Institute. JICA supported its production and its broadcast in Ghana.

In the documentary, the Ministry of Health of Ghana as well as the country office of WHO, provided comments to give assurances about the capacity and expertise of the NMIMR to deal with inspections. JICA’s contributions were also presented in the footage including the dispatch of Japanese experts and training programs for Ghanaian researchers held in Japan to improve the research capacity of the NMIMR.

There is a scene in which Kwadwo Koram, professor, director of the NMIMR, expressed his gratitude for the long-term support and fruitful cooperation from Japan. This footage has been broadcast repeatedly on the state channel, and it will be also broadcast on commercial television soon.

Conducting prevention activities assiduously

photoA Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer, second from right, promotes preventive information to residents with a poster. (photo: Takeshi Kuno)
photoA staff member, left, from the JICA office in Ghana explains the use of non-contact thermometer at a training session.

In addition to supporting the Noguchi Institute, JICA together with the Ghanaian Health Service, a governmental agency of the Ministry of Health, is supporting and promoting the “National Preparedness and Response Plan for Prevention and Control of Ebola viral Disease in Ghana.” To begin with, JICA supported the production of printed materials such as posters and leafletss to educate residents to properly prevent Ebola infection without panicking. And Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers are conducting onsite prevention activities using printed materials.

JICA also provided 128 Japanese-made non-contact thermometers (a device that can be used without touching the skin). These non-contact thermometers contributed not only to border Ebola prevention, but also to regions where no Ebola cases had been found and no sense of danger was felt.

“It is also contributing to the safety of health officers at the port and medical staff who work on the frontline, screening people to prevent Ebola from entering Ghana,” said Erasmus Agongo, doctor, director of Policy, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Division, Ghana Health Service.

Furthermore, JICA partially supported the trainings dubbed: “Ebola Case Management Training,” prepared by the Ghana Health Service, targeting Ebola regional response teams throughout the country.

The person in charge of the training, Gertrude Avotri, a Programme Officer of the Institutional Care Division Ghana Health Service, said: “Training for Ebola Case Management was urgently needed. Although, our national budget was limited, with JICA’s support, many medical personnel, police officers and immigration officers throughout the country were able to acquire the capacity to prepare the management of Ebola cases to a certain extent.”

Those supports were conducted as part of an ongoing technical cooperation for the Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service. JICA’s experts and Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers are working for those projects onsite.

JICA’s support of Ebola preparedness and response is ongoing. To contribute to smooth screening in border regions and at an airport, JICA has provided Japanese-made thermography cameras. JICA’s experts on infection prevention and control are also working on the promotion and reinforcement of Ebola prevention activities.

Note:
1. UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response was a project established in September 2014 by the United Nations to respond to the spread of Ebola in West Africa.
2. According to the article titled: “Here Are The Countries Where Ebola Is Most Likely To Show Up Next (Oct. 13, 2014)” on “Business Insider,” an English news website.
3. Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development, a project through the corporation of JICA and JST for three to five year duration, conducts collaborative research for researchers from Japan and developing countries in regard to the environment, disaster reduction and infection.

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