Guinea declares public health emergency over Ebola

CONAKRY Thu Aug 14, 2014 11:47am EDT

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CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea has declared a public health emergency over an Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 1,000 people in three West African states and is sending health workers to all affected border points, a government official said.

An estimated 377 people have died in Guinea since the world's worst outbreak of Ebola began in March in remote parts of a border region next to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Guinea says its outbreak is under control with the numbers of new cases falling, but that the new measures are needed to prevent further infection from the other countries at the center of the epidemic.

"Trucks full of health materials and carrying health personnel are going to all the border points with Liberia and Sierra Leone," Aboubacar Sidiki Diakité, president of Guinea's Ebola commission, said late on Wednesday.

As many as 3,000 people are waiting at 17 border points for a green light to enter the country, he said.

"Any who are sick will be immediately isolated. People will be followed up on. We can't take the risk of letting everyone through without checks," he said.

Sierra Leone has declared Ebola a national emergency as has Liberia, which is hoping that two of its doctors diagnosed with Ebola can start treatment on Thursday with some of the limited supply of experimental drug ZMapp.

Canada's Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp is also exploring the possibility of making more of its experimental Ebola treatment, Chief Executive Officer Mark Murray said.

Nigeria, which has also declared a national emergency, on Thursday said it had 11 cases of Ebola after a doctor who treated a Liberian man who brought the disease to Lagos fell ill.

Health experts say the responses of governments to the contagious hemorrhagic disease need to be calibrated to prevent its spread while avoiding measures that could induce panic or damage economies unnecessarily.

The task is made more difficult because the capacity of health services in the three main countries has been stretched to breaking point and mistrust of health workers among some rural communities is high.

In addition, 170 healthcare workers have been infected with Ebola and at least 81 have died among the overall toll of 1,069 people dead, according to the World Health Organization. Three of the dead are in Nigeria.

One of the deadliest diseases known to man, Ebola kills the majority of those infected. Its symptoms include internal and external bleeding, diarrhea and vomiting.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Ebola also threatens significant economic ramifications for some West African states as disruption to commerce, transport and borders lasts at least another month, said Matt Robinson, a vice president at Moody's ratings agency.

Sierra Leone's economic growth would slow from the 16 percent rate recorded in 2013 if mining sector production is affected, he said, adding a significant increase in expenditure on health in the three main countries is likely.

There is also "an indirect effect arising from an Ebola-induced economic slowdown on government revenue generation in a region where budgets are already hindered by low tax collection," he said.

Among the signs of the regional economic impact, Ivory Coast will not allow any ships from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to enter its port at Abidjan, according to a port statement.

"Anybody presenting symptoms similar to Ebola on board a ship must be made known to port authorities," it said.

Fewer passengers are arriving at Ivory Coast's main airport from Freetown, Conakry and Monrovia because of the virus leading to a shortfall of about 4,000 passengers a month, Abdoulaye Coulibaly, chairman of Air Cote d'Ivoire, told Reuters.

Ivory Coast and its eastern neighbor Ghana have recorded no cases of Ebola. Ghana's government said it would step up its funding for preventative health and ban the holding of international conferences for three months as a precaution.

Further afield, Korean Air Lines Co Ltd said it will suspend flights to and from Nairobi, Kenya, from Aug. 20 to prevent the spread of the virus.

Malaysian firm Sime Darby said it has relocated expatriate workers at its Liberian oil palm plantation and limited employee movement because of the outbreak.

"The company's routine estate operations are continuing under the supervision of local managers. However, tasks that require technical knowledge of expatriates such as mill construction and planting, have been affected," a spokesman said.

(Additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Anuradha Raghu in Kuala Lumpur, Emma Farge in Dakar, Se Young Lee in Seoul, Loucoumane Coulibaly in Abidjan and Clair MacDougall in Monrovia; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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