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Tracking the Ebola outbreak

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One of the most important tools in bringing infectious diseases like Ebola under control is to identify people who been in contact with an infected person and monitor them over a period of time.

But patient information systems in the countries at the centre of the Ebola outbreak – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – were already rudimentary even before the disease struck, and have so far not proven to be up to the task.

In Sierra Leone, for example, only around a third of contacts identified in the database maintained by the Ministry for Health have a clearly identifiable address.

In its 12 September situation report, the World Health Organisation warned “the capacity for contact tracing in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone is under extreme pressure, and needs to be further assessed; particularly in areas facing a surge in cases”.

While authorities struggle to track the infection, there is no sign yet of the disease slowing in its spread.

As at 7 September, 48 per cent of all cases in the three countries had occurred in the previous 21 days – including almost 60 per cent in Liberia.

“Transmission is continuing in urban areas, with the surge in Liberia being driven primarily by a sharp increase in the number of cases reported in the capital, Monrovia,” the WHO said.

Adrian Rollins