Guinea declares public health emergency over Ebola

CONAKRY Thu Aug 14, 2014 7:33pm EDT

1 of 3. A U.N. convoy of soldiers passes a screen displaying a message on Ebola on a street in Abidjan August 14, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Luc Gnago

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Ebola epidemic

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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 near Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Guinea says its outbreak is under control with the numbers of new cases falling, but the measures are needed to prevent fresh infection from neighboring countries hit by 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 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 too has declared a national emergency, though it has so far escaped the levels of infection seen in the three other countries. On Thursday, it said it had 10 cases of Ebola. Four Nigerians have died of the disease.

JUST ONE VEHICLE

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

That task is harder because health services have been stretched to breaking point and mistrust of health workers among some rural communities is high.

In addition, 170 healthcare workers have been infected and 81 have died among the overall toll of 1,069, according to the World Health Organization.

A Liberian government document seen by Reuters shows the strain on its health ministry as it confronts the emergency.

An Ebola call center in Monrovia is struggling to keep up with the volume of calls and needs more staff, phone lines and a deputy supervisor, the Ministry of Health document said.

"The case investigation team only has one vehicle so they can't get out and then there's the issue of no space at the ETU (Ebola Treatment Unit) to bring patients," it said.

Ebola is one of the world's most deadly diseases and kills the majority of those infected. Its symptoms include internal and external bleeding, diarrhoea and vomiting.

The U.S. State Department ordered family members at its embassy in Freetown to depart Sierra Leone because of limitations on regular medical care as a result of the outbreak.

U.S. President Barack Obama discussed the outbreak with the presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone, the White House said.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Ebola also bears 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 growth would slow from the 16 percent rate recorded in 2013 if mining sector production is affected, he said, adding that regional health budgets could rise.

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.

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 impose a moratorium on international conferences for three months as a precaution.

Beyond the immediate impact, Africa faces a problem of perception over Ebola even though many countries are remote geographically, economically and culturally from those suffering the outbreak in a corner of the continent.

In one example, 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.

Kenya Airways said it will continue its flights to Monrovia and Freetown. Kenyan Transport Minister Michael Kamau told a news conference the Korean Air decision may have been based on a WHO statement that Kenya should be classed as high risk of Ebola because of those direct flights.

"The statement by WHO yesterday was regrettable. It was retracted," he said. There was no immediate comment from WHO.

(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, Mark Felsenthal and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg, Duncan Miriri in Nairobi and Clair MacDougall in Monrovia; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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