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Liberia Announces State of Emergency as Concern Grows Over Outbreak in Other Countries

Posted on in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, West Africa title_rule

As the West African region continues to struggle to contain the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, on Wednesday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a state of emergency. The move, which is set to be ratified by Liberia’s parliament on Thursday, comes a week after Sierra Leone’s government declared a state of emergency.

Speaking on national television President Sirleaf disclosed that the state of emergency would come into effect as the epidemic now represented a threat to state security, noting that Liberia required “extraordinary measures for the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people.” The Liberian President further noted, “ignorance and poverty, as well as entrenched religious and cultural practices, continue to exacerbate the spread of the disease.” A statement released by the presidency has indicated that the state of emergency is effective as of 6 August and will last for a minimum period of ninety days. While the Liberian government has not yet disclosed the full effects of this state of emergency, sources have indicated that some civil liberties may have to be suspended as the country moves to contain the outbreak.

The outbreak of the deadly haemorrhagic fever has overwhelmed healthcare systems across the affected regions while the on going fight against its spread has been largely hampered by the fact that many indigenous people living in the forested border areas that straddle Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone believe that the virus was either introduced deliberately or it is a hoax fabricated by the West and designed to subjugate them. Such beliefs have resulted in relatives discharging highly contagious patients and taking them back to their villages, where countless individuals may have come into contact with them.  According to medical sources, “when patients are forcefully taken away, there comes the problem of transmission of the disease to others and this makes the issue of contact-tracing difficult.” Despite Liberian officials announcing that anyone caught hiding Ebola-infected persons would be arrested, many observers continue to indicate that the Ebola crisis in the country has gotten worse because many people are choosing to keep their sick relatives at home instead of taking them to isolation centres. In Guinea, medical experts have been attacked by angry mobs while in Sierra Leone and Liberia, traditional communities have ignored warnings not to touch the bodies of the dead during funeral rituals.

This has also prompted the deployment of troops to quarantine the worst hit areas in the remote border regions of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  In Liberia, operation “White Shield” has seen the country’s army deployed to implement controls and to isolate the severely affected communities. On Wednesday, Liberia’s information ministry disclosed that soldiers were being deployed to the isolated, rural counties of Lofa, Bong, Cape Mount and Bomi. Soldiers will set up checkpoints in these areas and will implement tracing measures on those residents who are suspected of coming into contact with Ebola patients. In Sierra Leone, 800 troops, including 50 military nurses, have been deployed to guard hospitals and clinics that are treating Ebola patients.

New WHO Figures Indicate Spread of Ebola Continuing

New data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated that between 2 – 4 August, forty-five new deaths have been reported, bringing the total to 932 in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Most of the fatalities have been reported in Liberia, where 282 people have died of the virus. There have also been 1,711 cases reported. This has prompted WHO experts and officials to meet in Geneva Switzerland this week in order to discuss new measures to contain the outbreak. On Wednesday, officials at the WHO also indicated that they would convene a meeting of medical ethics specialists next week in order to decide whether to approve experimental treatment for Ebola. The decision comes as some leading infectious disease experts have been calling for experimental treatments to be offered more widely in order to treat the disease. According to sources, the two-day meeting will also decide whether it is necessary to declare a global health emergency. If such a public health emergency is declared, this could involve detailed plans to identify, isolate and treat cases as well as to impose travel restrictions on the affected areas.

Further Cases Reported in Nigeria

As the death toll continues to rise, concern has been growing over the spread of Ebola and the threat that it may extend to other countries outside of the African continent. International alarm at the spread of the disease increased late last month after a US citizen died in Nigeria after flying from Liberia. Since then, concern has been growing over the number of new cases that have been reported in Nigeria as reports have emerged that health officials did not immediately quarantine a sick airline passenger who later died of Ebola.

On Wednesday, health officials in Nigeria confirmed a second death from the Ebola virus, adding that five new cases of Ebola have been reported in Lagos, one of the country’s most populous city. Health minister Onyebuch Chukwu, confirmed, “Nigeria has now recorded 7 confirmed cases of Ebola Virus Disease (EVB),” adding that those who died include a Liberian man who brought the disease to Lagos on July 20 and a nurse who treated him. The health minister further noted that “all the Nigerians diagnosed with EVB are primary contacts” of Patrick Sawyer, who worked for Liberia’s finance ministry and who contracted the virus from his sister. Mr Sawyer was transferred to the First Consultants hospital in the upmarket Ikoyi neighbourhood of Lagos. He died on July 25.

While authorities had initially indicated that the risk of any exposure to others was minimal, as Mr Sawyer had been placed into isolation directly after arriving at the airport with symptoms of Ebola, on Tuesday Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris revealed that the nature of his disease “was not known” the first day and that only after further investigation did officials suspect Ebola.

Tuesday’s announcement that Mr Sawyer had not been immediately quarantined further underscore concerns that West African countries are not adequately equipped in order to contain such a disease. While the Ebola virus can spread only through bodily fluids, and after the patient begins to show symptoms, the incubation period can last up to three weeks. Consequently, some of the Nigerians who treated Mr. Sawyer are only now showing signs of illness.

Possible Ebola Case Outside of African Continent

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry revealed Wednesday that a Saudi man, who was being treated for Ebola-like symptoms, has died at a hospital in Jeddah.

The 40-year-old returned from a business trip in Sierra Leone, one of four countries affected by the outbreak, on Sunday. The health ministry has indicated that the man died of cardiac arrest and that he was being tested for Ebola however the ministry has not confirmed whether the tests had concluded that he had the disease.   If confirmed, this would be the first-Ebola related death to occur outside the on going outbreak in Africa, which has already killed more than 900 people this year.   In April of this year, officials in Saudi Arabia announced that they would not issue visas this year to Muslim pilgrims from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The decision was made as a precaution to avoid the spread of the disease during the hajj pilgrimage, which sees massive crowds of people from around the world gather in Mecca.

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