News article

Madagascar Plague Update

Plague is endemic in some parts of Africa but the outbreak in Madagascar has had more cases than recorded previously. ICAN supports Madagascar in its endeavours to contain the outbreak and congratulates it in its ability to contain the spread of this historically devastating disease.

This year plague came early to Madagascar and spread quickly. When it began to move out from the areas where it traditionally occurs, people became increasingly alarmed – both within the island nation and in neighbouring territories and countries.

From August to late October 2017, more than 1800 suspected, probable or confirmed plague cases were reported, resulting in 127 deaths. This outbreak is unusually severe, and there are still five more months to go before the end of the plague season.

WHO has acted quickly, releasing funds and sending experts and supplies to Madagascar, while supporting neighbouring countries to reduce the risk of regional spread.

Plague is one of the oldest – and most feared – of all diseases. Historically, plague has been responsible for widespread pandemics with high mortality. It was known as the “Black Death” during the fourteenth century, causing more than 50 million deaths in Europe.

Nowadays, plague is easily prevented and treated with antibiotics if detected early enough, and infection can be prevented through the use of standard precautions.

“An outbreak of plague no longer unfolds in the manner portrayed by our history books,” said Dr Sylvie Briand, Director of WHO’s Infectious Hazard Management Department. “Plague is an old disease, but the challenges it poses today are contemporary and fundamentally different from what we had even 40 years ago.”

Despite the relative ease of treatment, plague’s association with the Black Death weighs heavily on the popular conscience – and is regularly cited in media reports and tabloid headlines about outbreaks.

So it is important to strike a balance between encouraging countries in the region to be ready to act in case of an outbreak, while avoiding panic that could result in unnecessary or counterproductive measures such as trade restrictions or travel bans on affected countries.

For more information please visit WHO Africa website

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