CONAKRY: West Africa’s Ebola-hit nations imposed stringent new rules to tackle the world’s worst ever outbreak of the tropical virus ahead of a special regional summit on Friday to launch an emergency response plan.
The leaders of four west African countries—Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast—meet in the Guinean capital Conakry Friday, along with the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, to launch a $100-million joint plan to tackle the epidemic.
The meeting comes as US, German and French health authorities issued a warning on Thursday against travel to the three affected countries—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—to stop the disease spreading to their shores.
“It is like fighting a forest fire. If you leave behind even one burning ember, one case undetected, it could reignite the epidemic,” said Tom Frieden, the chief of the United States’ top public health body.
Chan said hundreds more humanitarian workers would be deployed under the emergency plan.
A hospital in the southern United States said it was preparing to receive an Ebola patient “within the next several days” for treatment in its specialized containment unit.
Meanwhile, Nigeria quarantined two people who had “primary contact” with a man who died of Ebola in Lagos last week as west Africa battled to tame the deadliest ever outbreak of the virus.
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are struggling to contain an epidemic that has infected more than 1,300 people since the start of the year, hit major cities, and sparked alarm over its possible spread to other nations.
The WHO raised the death toll by 57 to 729 on Thursday, announcing that 122 new cases had been detected between Thursday and Sunday last week.
“The Ebola virus disease poses an extraordinary challenge to our nation,” Sierra Leone’s leader Ernest Bai Koroma said in a televised address to the nation.
“Consequently . . . I hereby proclaim a state of public emergency to enable us to take a more robust approach to deal with the Ebola outbreak,” he added.
Koroma confirmed he had cancelled a trip to the summit of around 50 African leaders in Washington next week.
He announced a raft of measures as part of the state of emergency, including quarantining Ebola-hit areas and canceling foreign trips by ministers.
Sierra Leone, which has seen 233 deaths, on Thursday buried medic Umar Khan, described by Koroma as a “national hero” who saved the lives of more than 100 Ebola patients before succumbing to the tropical bug.
The current outbreak of Ebola, which started at the beginning of this year, has killed 55 percent of those it has infected. The virus causes severe muscular pains, fever, headaches and, in the worst cases, unstoppable bleeding.
Although it is not a particularly robust virus—it is not airborne and can be killed with soap and hot water—it is spread through contact with bodily fluids, meaning anyone in close quarters with a patient could be at risk.
Fears that it could spread to other continents through air travel have been growing, with European and Asian countries on alert alongside African countries outside the Ebola crisis zone.