Q&A with Guy Richards

Q&A - Guy RichardsProfessor Guy Richards graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1978 with a MBChB degree. He went on to become a Fellow of the College of Physicians of South Africa in 1985 and acquired a PhD in medicine in 1992. He is the director of the intensive care unit at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital. Professor Richards is also a professor in the department of medicine at Wits and a principal physician in the pulmonology department.

How and why did Ebola resurface?

Ebola is a virus that seldom affects man. However, as we invade areas that were previously wilderness, we will interact with viruses that are usually limitedexclusively to these zones. The reservoir host is the fruit bat, which itself is unaffected by the virus. It can however infect primates or possibly other animals and can then be transmitted to humans if they eat or slaughter these animals – so called “bush meat”. It is frequently associated with diarrhea and bleeding from the gut or nose etc. People who come into contact with these secretions could become infected, especially if they have cuts or beaks in the skin or they get the secretions on their mucous membranes or eyes. Women are most often affected as it is their duty, traditionally, to wash and prepare a body for burial and, as such, are most frequently exposed. The other problem is that health care workers (HCW) dressed in protective clothing look frightening and seldom can speak the local language. They then attempt to remove the bodies in order to dispose of them safely, which is in direct contradiction to cultural beliefs that dictate thata person should be buried in andaround the village where they lived.

Regarding the widespread panic: is the public overreacting or not?

There are no cases in South Africa at present. If there were, they would be isolated and spread of infection limited. Only people who have been recently in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea or, to a lesser extent Nigeria, HCW in Lagos hospitals or HCW who have dealt with such patients, are at risk. It will not “waft” across our borders and the prime mode of spread would be by air as those who are ill would not survive a road or rail trip from West Africa.

What precautions are taken to screen individuals at our South African borders?

Those people coming from West Africa are given a questionnaire regarding their contact with ill patients and all patients are screened with the “fever screen” device. This would only pick up patients who are already ill, whereas those incubating the disease would present later with fever.

Ebola interruption

Nigerian academics were delayed their visas into South Africa, allegedly due to fears that they may be bringing the Ebola virus into the country.

Now a seminar about Boko Haram at the South African Institute of Internal Affairs (SAIIA) which was to be held at Wits last week – has been postponed.

“This is partly as a result of difficulties around the recent Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa,” said Sarasa Ananmalay, events manager at SAIIA.

Communications manager at SAIIA, Hopewell Radebe said the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) communicated the message to those who were due to attend the seminar. He confirmed that SAIIA had not received official comment on the matter from the South African Commission in Nigeria.

Executive director of AMEC Na’eem Jeenah said guests were not denied visas into the country because of the Ebola scare, but the media are “suspecting that this is the case”.

“This is partly as a result of difficulties around the recent Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa,”

Jeenah said the Department of Home Affairs had outsourced the processing of visas to a private company suggesting the processing of visas is “longer than normal because of the Ebola issue”.

Seember Aie from the South African embassy in Abuja, Nigeria disagrees that a visa application would be denied due to health fears of the Ebola virus: “We have never denied a visa based on that,” she said.

The health concerns of travellers have been an issue since the outbreak of the virus, but despite this, airlines continue to operate in West Africa, according to spokesperson of South African Airways (SAA) Tlali Tlali.

Tlali told Wits Vuvuzela this week that the airline had taken measures to ensure safety of passengers adding that staff members would be on “lookout for passengers who bear specific and visible symptoms associated with the Ebola virus”.