Nigeria became the third African nation, after Sierra Leone and
Liberia, to declare a national emergency on Friday as the region's
healthcare systems struggle to cope with the advance of one of the
deadliest diseases known to man.
"The outbreak is moving faster than we can control it," WHO
Director-General Margaret Chan told reporters on a telephone
briefing from her Geneva headquarters.
The U.N. agency said all states where Ebola had passed from one
person to another should declare a national emergency. It called the
outbreak "particularly serious" but said there should be no general
ban on international travel or trade.
"The declaration ... will galvanise the attention of leaders of all
countries at the top level. It cannot be done by the ministries of
health alone," Chan said.
In Nigeria, which has confirmed seven cases of Ebola since a man
fell sick on arrival from Liberia, President Goodluck Jonathan
declared a national state of emergency and approved 1.9 billion
naira ($11.7 million) of emergency funds to combat the virus.
The WHO has been accused of failing to respond fast enough to the
outbreak, which it said on May 18 could be declared over by May 22.
It has since become more conservative in its predictions, said head
of health security, Keiji Fukuda.
"At that point we thought that it was likely that it would come
under control based on our experience. This outbreak has developed
in ways we have not seen before," Fukuda told reporters.
"The likelihood is that things will get worse before they get
better," he said, adding that the WHO is prepared for an outbreak
that persists at a high level for months.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the declaration
showed WHO's seriousness in tackling the outbreak but added that
statements should be translated into action.
"For weeks, MSF has been repeating that a massive medical,
epidemiological and public health response is desperately needed to
saves lives," said MSF Director of Operations Bart Janssens.
RESTRICTIONS CAUSE HARDSHIP
Ebola has no proven cure and there is no vaccine to prevent
infection, so the best treatment is focussed on alleviating symptoms
that include fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Its spread could be stopped with the right measures to deal with
infected people, Fukuda said, but it was important that anyone known
to have Ebola should be immediately isolated and treated in
isolation for 30 days.
The U.S. Agency for International Development said on Friday its
officials had announced more than $12 million in additional funding
this week to help curb the outbreak.
The European Union said on Friday it was increasing by 8 million
euros ($10.7 million) its funding to contain Ebola and governments
in the affected region have taken increasingly tough measures.
The army in Sierra Leone on Thursday blockaded rural areas hit by
Ebola while neighbouring Liberia declared a state of emergency. But
some local people said the restrictions, while necessary, risked
increasing their economic hardship.
In one example, about 30 military officers armed with AK-47s guarded
a checkpoint blocking a line of trucks laden with goods from
travelling from Montserrado County to the rest of Liberia.
One of the drivers, Sackie Sumo, said the closed road prevented him
transporting his truckload of logs, which in turn meant he would not
"I feel bad. I need to get money to my family," he told Reuters.
Market vendor Musa Kweh whose shared taxi had been stopped at the
same checkpoint, also said she was unsure how she would generate
income from her goods now that the market in Monrovia she was
heading to was closed.
In an attempt to make some money from potatoes and other goods, she
spread them on the ground at the checkpoint to sell to passersby.
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FRESH DEATH TOLL
The latest WHO figures on Friday showed the worsening toll. Some
1,779 people have been infected and 961 people have died in the most
severe outbreak in the 40 years since it was first identified in
This was partly because of weaknesses in the countries
affected, where health systems are fragile and lacking in resources.
Sierra Leone has one local doctor for roughly 45,588 people while
Liberia has one for every 86,275 people, according to political risk
research company DaMina Advisors.
The effort to contain the disease is also undermined by inexperience
and misperceptions of the threat, the WHO said.
Although most cases of Ebola are in the remote area where Guinea
borders Sierra Leone and Liberia, alarm over the spread of the
disease increased last month when a U.S. citizen died in Nigeria
after travelling there by plane from Liberia.
The U.S. State Department has ordered the departure of family
members from its embassy in the Liberian capital Monrovia and said
it was acting "out of an abundance of caution".
International companies are also taking protective measures such as
reducing staff in affected countries. Steel and mining company
ArcelorMittal on Friday declared force majeure on a major project in
Liberia because of the outbreak.
Nigeria's state oil company said on Friday it had shut down its own
clinic in the Lagos commercial district of Victoria Island after a
suspected Ebola case was admitted.
Airline Gambia Bird said it was now only offering one-way flights
from the Gambian capital Banjul to Ebola-affected countries,
following a request from the government.
Concerns have spread to other countries. Ugandan health authorities
on Friday said an Ebola suspect had tested negative, while a
hospital in Benin's capital was treating a Nigerian man suspected of
having contracted the disease.
After an experimental drug was administered to two U.S. charity
workers who were infected in Liberia, Ebola specialists have urged
the WHO to offer such drugs to Africans. The U.N. agency has asked
medical ethics experts to explore this option next week.
Kent Brantly, 33, a Texas doctor being treated for Ebola in Atlanta
after getting evacuated from West Africa, said in a statement on
Friday he was getting stronger.
"I am writing this update from my isolation room," Brantly said in
his first public statement since contracting Ebola. "I am growing
stronger every day, and I thank God for his mercy as I have wrestled
with this terrible disease."
(1 US dollar = 0.7462 euro)
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay and Tom Miles in
Geneva, Barbara Lewis in Brussels, Elias Biryabarema in Kampala,
Alphonso Toweh in Washington and Pap Saine in Banjul; Writing by
Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Emma Farge; Editing by Philippa Fletcher,
Robin Pomeroy and Mohammad Zargham)
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