Voice of America (Washington, DC)

21 August 2014

South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-Stricken Countries

South Africa said on Thursday that due to fears over the spread of the Ebola virus it was banning travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from entering the country, apart from its own citizens.

South Africans returning home from these areas will be permitted entry but undergo a strict screening process, a health ministry statement said.

"For citizens of South Africa who wish to travel to these countries, they will be requested to delay their travels unless it is also absolutely essential for them to travel to these countries," Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.

The deadly Ebola disease has killed more than 1,300 people this year in the three small west African states and also has a toehold in Nigeria, Africa's biggest economy.

Travelers from Nigeria, where there is a much smaller outbreak, will be allowed entry.

South Africa has so far been Ebola-free despite two scares in as many weeks: a South African man returning from Liberia and a Guinean woman.

Both tested negative.

Johannesburg is a major hub for air travel between southern Africa and the rest of the continent. And, like many other African countries, it has taken up the travel ban in an attempt to contain the hemorrhagic virus and stop in spreading across the continent.

Congo deaths

At least 70 people have died in northern Democratic Republic of Congo from an outbreak of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, denying that the illness was Ebola.

A WHO report dated Thursday and seen by Reuters said that 592 people had contracted the disease, of whom 70 died. Five health care workers, including one doctor, are among the dead.

Symptoms of the two diseases are similar; they include vomiting, diarrhea and internal bleeding.

But the fatality rate for this outbreak of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is much lower than the West Africa Ebola outbreak, at about 12 percent versus nearly 60 percent.

"This is not Ebola," a WHO spokesman said in an email to Reuters on Thursday.

Kinshasa sent its health minister, Felix Kabange Numbi, and a team of experts on Wednesday to the region after reports of several deaths.

The hemorrhagic gastroenteritis outbreak began in the remote jungle province of Equateur where the first case of Ebola was reported in 1976, prompting speculation that it was the same illness.

WHO to discuss possible treatments

Also Thursday, the WHO said it would convene talks early next month on potential treatments and vaccines to contain the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The talks on Sept. 4-5 in Geneva will discuss safety and efficacy of experimental therapies and how to expedite clinical trials and ramp up production, it said.

ZMapp is one of several experimental treatments and vaccines for Ebola that are currently undergoing investigation.

At present, supplies of all are extremely limited," the WHO said in a statement. It was referring to a U.S.-made trial drug, used on six patients to date, supplies of which are now exhausted.

In Liberia, a tense calm is reported in the West Point area of the capital, Monrovia, a day after riot police clashed with residents who tried to break a quarantine placed on the area in an attempt to contain the spread of Ebola.

At least four people were injured Wednesday when police fired bullets and tear gas to disperse stone-throwing protesters who were upset by the sudden blockade of roads in and out of their neighborhood.

A nationwide curfew is also in place in an effort to halt the spread of the virus.

Liberia has been hit especially hard by the outbreak. WHO said 90 percent of new Ebola deaths reported have occurred there.

UN expert

Meanwhile Thursday, the United Nations public health expert charged with coordinating global efforts to fight the spread of the virus was headed to Liberia.

David Nabarro has said his visit will focus on plans to revitalize health sectors in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, the four countries where outbreaks have taken place.

The WHO says just under 2,500 people have been infected by the virus, with more than 1,350 people dying from it.

Elsewhere, Guinea has started deploying civilian and military medical officers to its borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia as part of efforts to contain the spread of the Ebola virus.

Health Minister Colonel Remy Lamah said the first of the health workers left for the border checkpoints at Forecariah and Gueckedou Macenta late on Wednesday, where they would create a "sanitary barrier" and control suspected cases and contacts.

There are a total of 41 checkpoints where over 105 health workers are needed, officials said.

Also, the Health Service Executive (HSE) of Ireland said in a statement on Thursday that the country's health service is carrying out tests on a suspected case of the Ebola virus in a deceased person who recently returned from Africa.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.

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