West African nations neighbouring those hit by the Ebola epidemic – Mali, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Guinea Bissau – should prepare for the possible arrival of travellers carrying the deadly virus, the World Health Organization said on Friday.
Despite efforts by national health authorities and international aid organizations to contain the spread of Ebola, the WHO has recorded 635 infections, including 399 deaths, in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia since the outbreak began in February. The outbreak is already the deadliest since Ebola first emerged in central Africa in 1976, and the number of infections continues to rise.
“We want other countries in West Africa to be ready – bordering countries, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, Guinea Bissau – to prepare themselves in case people affected with the disease may be also travelling,” WHO medical officer Pierre Formenty told a briefing in Geneva.
Formenty said it was difficult to stop the spread of the virus in forested areas of the three countries already affected by the epidemic and to change people’s burial practices which facilitate its transmission.
He said the UN health agency is not considering recommending travel or trade restrictions on the three countries, however. “This is not out of hand,” Formenty said.
Sierra Leone has warned that it is a serious crime to shelter someone infected with the Ebola virus.
In a statement Friday, the country’s Health Ministry also lamented the fact that a number of patients had discharged themselves from hospital in Kenema district, where the outbreak is taking place, and gone into hiding. The statement said that those interfering with the health teams would be punished.
WHO’s regional director for Africa, Luis Sambo, on Thursday called for drastic action to halt what he said has turned into a cross-border crisis.
With a report from Associated Press
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