23 August 2014

Liberia: Philippines Withdraw UN Troops Over Ebola Concerns

Photo: Premium Times
Nigerian army.

The Philippines will repatriate over 100 UN troops serving in Liberia "as soon as possible." The decision comes after Liberia confirmed all regions have now been hit by the Ebola virus.

The Philippines defense department confirmed on Saturday that it will pull out more than 400 troops from UN peace-keeping missions in the Golan Heights and Liberia amid concerns over the Ebola virus and fears for their safety.

In a statement, the department said the 115-member contingent in Liberia will be "repatriated as soon as possible" due to the increasing health risk from the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa.

"The Philippines prioritizes the safety and security of its troops, but remains committed to the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations," the statement added.

The decision comes after Liberia confirmed on Friday that all regions have now been hit by the Ebola virus, where 624 people have already died due to the disease. In neighbouring Guinea, 406 have died and 392 in Sierra Leone.

Two people have now tested positive in the province of Sinoe - Liberia's last Ebola-free region.

Death toll crosses 1,400

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that the number of deaths by Ebola had reached 1,427. A total of, 2,615 suspected or confirmed cases have now been reported in West Africa since the outbreak was first indentified in Guinea in March.

Two new cases have also been confirmed by Nigerian health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu. The victims are thought to have been infected by their spouses who were medical workers and came into contact with an infected person, Patrick Sawyer, who was flying in from Liberia.

Sawyer was not quarantined immediately after his arrival and enabled the hemorrhagic fever to spread to 11 others, killing a total of five in the country. The Nigerian government has kept a further 213 people under surveillance for indications of Ebola.

People infected with the disease display flu-like symptoms and suffer internal and external hemorrhaging. There is currently no vaccine for the virus.

Social stigma

WHO is also concerned that several cases of Ebola might be going undetected due to families hiding the victims at home and the existence of "shadow zones," where medics cannot go due to community resistance or lack of staff and transport.

Some infected people prefer to die at home, especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the disease is associated with social stigma and isolation.

Neighboring countries in West Africa are also growing increasingly concerned about the epidemic and have closed land borders and even stopped flights to these countries. South Africa, Senegal and Gabon are the latest countries to seal their borders and impose travel bans on Ebola-hit countries.

WHO officials are now estimating that it will be six to nine months before the epidemic is brought to a halt.

An Ebola outbreak will only be declared as over in a country if there have been no confirmed cases for two incubation periods, or a total of 42 days, a WHO spokesperson said.


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