22 August 2014

Senegal Shuts Border to Guinea Amid Ebola Spread

Photo: West Africa Trade Hub
Border crossing.

Senegal has closed its border with Guinea and imposed controls for boats and ships hailing from Ebola-hit countries Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. South Africa has imposed similar measures for travelers.

The Interior Ministry in Dakar announced late on Thursday that it would seek to shut off access to Guinea, which borders the southeast of Senegal.

Several African governments have taken measures aiming to stop the spread of the Ebola virus, known to have killed 1,350 people since March in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. South Africa issued a travel ban for travelers from Ebola-hit countries, saying South African citizens returning from these countries would be questioned, and screened if necessary.

Liberia in particular has struggled in recent days with a surge in cases. The World Health Organization (WHO) has counted 972 confirmed cases and 576 deaths in the country, warning that many more cases might remain undiagnosed. The UN's new pointman on the epidemic, David Nabarro, said Thursday on arrival in the region that the outbreak's spread was difficult to predict.

"We're either close to a plateau, but then we'll drop; or we're in a phase - an inflection point - where it is going to increase, and I absolutely cannot tell," Nabarro told the AFP news agency on a stopover at Conakry airport en route to Monrovia. Nabarro said he was determined to "ensure that every piece of our apparatus is at its optimum so it could deal possibly with a flare-up, if that's necessary."

The British physician Nabarro, appointed by the UN last week to coordinate the international response to Ebola, was due to visit Freetown, Sierra Leone; Conakry, Guinea; and Abuja, Nigeria during his trip to the region. After visiting the affected countries, Nabarro will return to Geneva and New York to report on his findings.

Monrovia overburdened

The virus' spread has severely tested medical infrastructure and staff in West Africa. The Red Cross' Liberian office, for instance, warned that the crematorium in Monrovia was struggling to deal with the bodies being brought in each day. Cremation is an important step in efforts to contain the spread of the infectious disease, passed on via contact with bodily fluids.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf imposed a curfew and ordered a quarantine zone for the capital Monrovia's West Point slum earlier in the week, prompting protests in the district of around 75,000 people.

There is not currently a vaccine or accepted treatment for Ebola, but the WHO intends to debate the safety and efficacy of experimental medications at a meeting in Geneva next month. Two US missionaries who contracted Ebola while treating patients in Liberia, Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, have left hospital after making a full recovery. Both received an experimental drug called ZMapp during treatment, but it is not yet clear whether the medication contributed to their recovery.

(AFP, AP, dpa)

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