31 July 2014

Liberia Shuts Schools As Ebola Spreads

Liberia's president has ordered all schools to close and has put non-essential government workers on compulsory leave, the latest measures seeking to contain an Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Wednesday said her government would close schools and consider quarantining some communities, some of the most aggressive measures yet undertaken in West Africa seeking to contain the Ebola virus.

"All schools are ordered closed pending further directive from the Ministry of Education," Sirleaf said, also putting all non-essential civil servants on compulsory leave for at least 30 days.

Ebola is known to have claimed nearly 130 lives in Liberia alone. Across Guinea, where the first case was identified, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded 1,201 cases of Ebola - 672 of the sufferers, more than half of those infected, have died.

"Ebola is real, Ebola is contagious, and Ebola kills," Sirleaf said, appealing to Liberians to observe above-average standards of hygiene and sanitation. She warned that any price scalping for sanitation products like chlorine, soap or buckets would be prosecuted by the Ministry of Commerce.

Speaking to the Reuters news agency, Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown called the outbreak a "major public health emergency."

"We need the support of the international community now more than ever. We desperately need all the help we can get," Brown told Reuters.

Ebola, or viral hemorrhagic fever, is not easily transmitted from person to person. But there is no vaccine or specific treatment. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and in some cases internal and external bleeding or even organ failure. The WHO lists oral or intravenous rehydration as the most important form of medical treatment required by patients. Ebola's mortality rate is high - around 60 percent among known cases in the current outbreak, which began in March.

One isolated case has also been recorded in Nigeria, involving a 40-year-old man who had flown from Liberia to Lagos. The airline he flew with, Togo-based carrier ASKY, on Tuesday halted all flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone in response. The UN's ICAO aviation agency has said it is considering measures to try to stop the disease's spread via air travel.

The European Union earlier on Wednesday allocated extra funds to fight the outbreak, having also deployed medical experts to the affected regions. Two suspected Ebola sufferers in Europe, one in the UK and the other in Spain, tested negative.

msh/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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