MS Risk Blog

Ebola Spreads to Sixth Country as Mali Confirms First Case

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Just a week after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it would deploy experts to the Ivory Coast and Mali to test their Ebola-preparedness measures, on Thursday, Mali’s Health Minister confirmed the country’s first Ebola case.

Speaking on state television late Thursday, Malian Health Minister Ousmane Kone confirmed that a two-year-old girl has tested positive for the deadly virus, disclosing that she was currently being treated at a hospital in the western town of Kayes, which is located 600 kilometres (375 miles) from the capital city Bamako. According to the Health Minister, the girl was brought to the Fousseyni Daou hospital on Wednesday, where she was immediately tested for the virus, which came back positive. Reports have indicated that the girl had recently returned from Kissidougou, in neighbouring Guinea, where the Ebola outbreak first emerged last December. Her mother died in Guinea several weeks ago, with the girl recently being brought to Bamako by relatives. She stayed in the Malian capital for ten days, in the Bagadadji neighbourhood, before leaving for Kayes. The child and 43 people who have come into contact with her have been put in quarantine, with the health minister urging anyone who may have had contact with the girl to come forward. A source within the health ministry has reported that the child’s condition is said to be improving.

Mali is now the sixth country in West Africa to be affected by the worst-ever Ebola outbreak, however both Senegal and Nigeria have in the past week been declared Ebola-free by WHO officials. Health officials have long viewed Mali as one of the most vulnerable to Ebola’s spread as the West African country borders both Guinea, which has been one of the hardest-hit countries by the current outbreak, and Senegal. The WHO’s list of fifteen African countries that need to be prepared for a possible Ebola case identified both Mali and the Ivory Coast as top priorities. Last week, WHO officials announced that they will deploy experts to both countries in order to test their Ebola-preparedness measures as both countries are currently at the greatest risk of being the next to be affected by the outbreak. Speaking during a news conference in Geneva last week, Isabell Nuttal, the WHO’s health security response chief disclosed, “as the number of cases is increasing, it wouldn’t be a surprise to have a case in neighbouring countries. And its for this very reason that we are working with them so that they are able to detect and take immediate action,” adding, “border checkpoints and health points have been implemented on the major roads that are crossing between the countries, so it provides a level of reassurance in terms of travelling.” On Sunday, a team of ten experts was set to deploy to Mali, with another team set to deploy to the Ivory Coast in the coming days.

An outbreak of the Ebola virus in Mali would likely severely threaten the country’s already fragile security situation, as Mali is continuing to stabilize after a coup and Islamist militant takeover of its northern region. It could also result in a greater risk to healthcare workers deployed in the country. While several teams of health workers have been attacked in Guinea, with several workers killed in September by locals as they attempted to spread awareness about the deadly virus, terrorist groups operating in the northern regions could target health workers for kidnap-for-ransom or could carry out violent attacks similar to those that targeted polio vaccination workers in Nigeria and Pakistan.

New figures released by the WHO on Wednesday indicate that Ebola has now killed 4,877 people and infected 9,936 across West Africa, with most of the deaths and cases occurring in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The official number of cases and deaths however remains unknown as under-reporting continues to be a major issue in this outbreak, however the WHO indicated last week that the true death toll may be three times as high as the one currently being reported. A separate and unrelated outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa currently appears to have been contained.

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