POLITICS

Ebola clinics on agenda as Dr. Gregory Taylor to visit West Africa

04/10/2015 09:19 EDT | Updated 06/12/2015 02:59 EDT
Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada's chief public health officer, is preparing to travel to West Africa to get a first-hand look at the efforts to defeat the Ebola outbreak, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives. 

The trip, which runs from April 13 to 19, will take Taylor to Sierra Leone and Guinea, two of the three West African countries that have been at the centre of the outbreak.

Taylor plans to visit the 70 Canadian health-care workers in Guinea and Sierra Leone, including the military staff working at a treatment facility being run by British armed forces personnel in Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital city.

The World Health Organization has said that the Ebola crisis is still considered an international emergency, even as the number of new confirmed cases decreases.

The most recent WHO data shows the number of new confirmed cases dropped to 30 last week, and health officials are hoping to get that down to zero. Liberia, the third of the hard-hit West African nations, had no new confirmed cases in the same period.

For most of the past year, Taylor said, the need has been for acute care workers to treat those infected with Ebola, but the needs on the ground are changing.

"So it's an opportune time for me to go, to help Canada decide how can we best contribute to ending this outbreak, [and] then the other health issues that will appear after the outbreak is over," Taylor told CBC.

Many other diseases have not been treated because of the focus on dealing with Ebola, he said.

"I've read some modelling that suggests that the deaths from measles may exceed the deaths from Ebola because the clinics were closed down. Doctor's offices were closed down. Hospitals were closed. Children weren't getting immunized," he said.

Rumours of unreported cases

Taylor said that although the number of cases is dropping, "there's lots of rumours of unreported cases, so let's hope that those are simply rumours and we do manage to get it to zero."

While in West Africa, Taylor will also check in on the field trials for the Ebola vaccine that was invented at the federal lab in Winnipeg.

He said the vaccine is being used in so-called "ring trials" involving people at high risk of contracting Ebola.

"We still don't know if the vaccine works in humans, so that's the thinking around the ring vaccine trials. For example, if you vaccinate all of the contacts, these are people with a very high risk of developing the disease, and [if] they don't get Ebola, then you know that it's working," Taylor said.

Taylor plans to return home from the region next weekend.