African authorities act to stem Ebola outbreak
Nigeria closed and quarantined the hospital where a man died on Friday in the country’s first recorded case of the deadly and highly contagious pathogen.
The closure of the clinic in one of Lagos’ most densely populated districts came as police were called in to guard Sierra Leone’s main Ebola treatment centre, while Liberia shut almost all its borders and banned public gatherings. Attempts to halt the world’s biggest and most widespread outbreak of Ebola have been hampered by a lack of resources and poor understanding in a region which has never experienced an epidemic.
Ebola has killed 672 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since it was first diagnosed in February. The pathogen is passed through contact with bodily fluids of infected patients or eating infected meat, and has no known cure, although chances of survival improve dramatically with early detection and treatment.
“We have shut the hospital to enable us to properly quarantine the environment. Some of the hospital staff who were in close contact with the victim have been isolated,” Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris said.
Authorities set up an isolation ward and began tracing those who had been in contact with Patrick Sawyer, a 40-year-old civil servant whose flight from his home in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, stopped over in Togo and Ghana. Some 60 contacts had been traced, including 44 health workers and 15 airport officials. Not all of the flight’s passengers had been contacted as the airline had yet to provide a manifest, state officials said.
Derek Gatherer, a virologist at the University of Lancaster, said anyone on the plane near the infected man could be in “pretty serious danger”.
But he said Nigeria was richer than the other countries in the region, so could more easily mobilise resources to tackle an outbreak. “Nigerians have deep pockets and they can do as much as any western country could do if they have the motivation and organisation to get it done.” Liberian and Nigerian airports and seaports began screening international arrivals for Ebola symptoms, which can take up to 21 days to appear. Arik Air, a major carrier for the region, has suspended flights between Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone, as travel peaks this week during the Muslim holiday of Eid.
Sawyer is believed to have contacted the virus from his sister, who died of Ebola earlier this month. But his travelling despite not feeling well has angered many.
“One of our compatriots met his untimely death and put to risk others across borders because of indiscipline and disrespect for the advice which had been given by health workers,” Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said during the country’s independence day celebrations on Saturday.
She announced stringent new measures after two American volunteer doctors tested positive for Ebola, and the lead medical doctor at the country’s largest hospital died. Samuel Brisbane had treated himself at home in an attempt not to infect other health workers, many of whom have been ostracised by their communities.
In Sierra Leone, where 454 have died, angry crowds gathered outside Kenema hospital in the country’s remote east, where dozens are receiving treatment for the virus, and threatened to burn it down and remove the patients.
Many communities have been left bewildered and angered by the deaths, and a belief that health workers living among the community are spreading the disease.
© Guardian News & Media 2014