Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Ebola declared a health emergency

A Nigerian health official uses a thermometer on a worker at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos (AP)
A Nigerian health official uses a thermometer on a worker at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos (AP)

The World Health Organisation urged nations worldwide to help stop the spread of Ebola as it declared the outbreak in West Africa to be an international public health emergency.

The latest Ebola outbreak is the largest and longest ever recorded for the disease, which has a death rate of about 50% and has so far killed at least 961 people, according to the UN health agency.

It emerged in Guinea in March and has since spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

"Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own," WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan said.

"I urge the international community to provide this support on the most urgent basis possible."

She added that the world's "collective health security" depends on curbing the spread of the killer virus in West Africa, even as she acknowledged that many countries would probably not have any Ebola cases.

The Nigerian government declared containing the Ebola virus in Africa's most populous country a national emergency yesterday, after two Ebola patients died and the health ministry said seven other cases were confirmed.

President Goodluck Jonathan approved spending £7 million to fight the disease and urged schools to extend a current holiday to give experts more time to assess the Ebola threat.

Since Ebola was first identified in 1976, there have been more than 20 outbreaks in central and eastern Africa. This is the first to affect West Africa.

The virus causes symptoms including fever, vomiting, muscle pain and bleeding. It is spread by direct contact with bodily fluids like blood, sweat, urine, saliva and diarrhoea.

The UN agency convened an expert committee this week to assess the severity of the Ebola epidemic. WHO declared similar emergencies for the swine flu pandemic in 2009 and for polio in May.

Earlier this week, the World Bank pledged up to 200 million US dollars (£120 million) in emergency funding to help the countries affected by Ebola and strengthen public health systems across West Africa.

Yesterday , the EU said it would chip in an additional 8 million euro (£6.4 million) to Ebola efforts and send a second mobile lab to help with diagnostics.

USAID also announced it would invest an extra 12.45 million US dollars (£7.4 million) to support the fight against Ebola.

In the US, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has already warned Americans against travelling to West Africa due to the Ebola outbreak.

The agency also put US hospitals on alert for symptoms so they can spot potential cases.

Two Americans infected with Ebola recently received a drug never before tested in people.

The American doctor infected with Ebola, Dr Kent Brantly, said in a statement he isgetting stronger every day.

"I held the hands of countless individuals as this terrible disease took their lives away from them. I witnessed the horror first-hand, and I can still remember every face and name." he added.

He and another aid worker, Nancy Writebol, are being treated in an isolation unit at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Ms Writebol's husband, David, who remains in Liberia, told reporters that his wife also appears to be improving.

Next week, WHO will hold another meeting to discuss whether it is ethical to use experimental Ebola treatments in the current outbreak.

WHO did not recommend any travel or trade bans but said people who had close contact with Ebola patients should not travel internationally.

For countries with Ebola, WHO issued various recommendations, including exit screening at international airports and border crossings to spot potential cases. It also discouraged mass gatherings.

WHO said countries without Ebola should heighten their surveillance and treat any suspected cases as a health emergency.

This week, two of the worst-hit Ebola countries - Liberia and Sierra Leone - brought in troops to enforce quarantines and stop people infected with the disease from travelling.

Liberian authorities said no one with a fever would be allowed in or out of the country and warned some civil liberties could be suspended if needed to bring the killer virus under control.

The disease spread from Liberia to Nigeria when a man apparently sick with Ebola boarded a plane, according to the Nigerian government.

It says the man, who later died, was not placed into isolation for at least 24 hours after he was admitted to hospital.

A nurse who treated him has since died from Ebola and authorities are monitoring seven other cases among people who had contact with him.

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