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Killer virus Ebola threatening Liberia's existence

It comes after an assessment from the World Health Organization.

Health workers, attend to patients with Ebola at a clinic in Monrovia, Liberia.
Health workers, attend to patients with Ebola at a clinic in Monrovia, Liberia.
Image: Abbas Dulleh/AP/Press Association Images

WARNING – GRAPHIC IMAGES 

EBOLA IS THREATENING the very existence of Liberia as the killer virus spreads like “wild fire”.

That’s the warning coming from its defence minister after a grim World Health Organization assessment that the worst is yet to come.

After predicting an “exponential increase” in infections across West Africa, the WHO warned that Liberia could initially only hope to slow the contagion, not stop it

Liberia has accounted for half of all fatalities. Defense Minister, Brownie Samukai, told a meeting of the UN Security Council yesterday that, “Liberia is facing a serious threat to its national existence.”

The disease is now spreading like wild fire, devouring everything in its path.

The WHO upped the Ebola death toll on Tuesday to 2,296 out of 4,293 cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria as of September 6. Nearly half of all infections had occurred in the past 21 days, it said.

Liberia Ebola A health worker, right, sprays a man with disinfectant chemicals as he is suspected of dying due to the Ebola virus in Liberia. Source: A health worker, right, sprays a man with disinfectant chemicals as he is suspected of dying due to the Ebola virus as people, rear, look on in Monrovia, Liberia

The agency also evacuated its second infected medical expert, a doctor who had been working at an Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone.

Emory University Hospital in the United States admitted yesterday that an American had contracted the disease in west Africa, but declined to confirm whether the patient was the WHO employee.

The hospital has successfully treated two other infected US nationals.

Ebola, transmitted through bodily fluids, leads to haemorrhagic fever and – in over half of cases – death. There is no specific treatment regime and no licensed vaccine.

Liberia Ebola Ebola prevention gloves and rubber boots for health workers set outside for the sun to dry them. Source: Abbas Dulleh/AP/Press Association Images

‘Need to be pragmatic’ 

The latest WHO figures underscore Ebola’s asymmetric spread, as it rips through densely populated communities with decrepit health facilities and poor public awareness campaigns.

Speaking on Tuesday, WHO’s epidemiology chief, Sylvie Briand, said the goal in Senegal and Nigeria was now “to stop transmission completely”. Senegal has announced only one infection, while Nigeria has recorded 19 infections and eight deaths.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is battling a separate outbreak which has killed 32 in a remote northwestern region.

“But in other locations, like Monrovia, where we have really wide community transmission, we are aiming at two-step strategies,” Briand said in Geneva, “first, to reduce the transmission as much as possible and, when it becomes controllable, we will also try to stop it completely.

But at this point in time we need to be pragmatic and try to reduce it in the initial steps.

A day earlier the WHO had warned that aid organisations trying to help Liberia to respond would “need to prepare to scale up their current efforts by three- to four-fold”.

Before the current outbreak, it noted, Liberia only had one doctor for every 100,000 patients in a population of 4.4 million.

In Montserrado county, which contains Monrovia, there are no spare beds at the few Ebola treatment sites operating, the WHO said.

It described how infected people were being driven to centres only to be turned away, return home and create “flare-ups” of deadly fever in their villages.

It said 1,000 beds are needed – far more than the 240 currently operational and 260 planned.

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Liberia Ebola A health worker is sprayed with disinfectant after he worked with patients that contracted the Ebola virus, at a clinic in Monrovia, Liberia Source: Abbas Dulleh/AP/Press Association Images

Border closure, controls 

Guinea’s President Alpha Conde described Ebola as a “war” on his nation – with 555 dead so far.

He slammed neighbouring states including Ivory Coast and Senegal for shutting their borders, and airlines for suspending flights to affected countries. He said:

They forget that when you close borders, people just go through the bush. It’s better to have official passages of transit.

African Union commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma also called for travel bans to be lifted “to open up economic activities”.

In Gambia, customs officials said on Tuesday they had closed the borders to Guineans, Liberians, Nigerians and Sierra Leoneans — though not to neighbouring Senegal.

Ebrima Kurumah, a health officer posted at the border with Senegal, told AFP:

We are also advising Gambians intending to travel to these countries to cancel their trips, but any Gambian who fails to heed our advice, we will not allow you in the country if you return.

There were restrictions further afield, too. China, one of the region’s main investors, announced on Tuesday it was reinforcing checks on people, goods and vehicles – and even mail – arriving from affected countries.

Meanwhile, Italy announced its first possible case of Ebola – a woman recently returned from Nigeria.

© AFP, 2014

Read: Four day ‘lockdown’ planned to halt spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone>

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