GENEVA (Reuters) - Independent health advisers to the World Health Organization (WHO) have assessed that there should be no general ban on travel or trade with countries reeling from an Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the U.N. agency said on Monday.
Some airlines have stopped flights to affected areas and WHO and other agencies have said this has hampered aid efforts and the ability of experts to reach victims of the world’s worst ever outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever.
In a statement issued after the Emergency Committee held its second meeting last week, the WHO said Ebola had now killed at least 2,793 people in five countries and remains a “public health emergency of international concern”.
“Flight cancellations and other travel restrictions continue to isolate affected countries, resulting in detrimental economic consequences, and hinder relief and response efforts risking further international spread,” the statement said.
“The Committee strongly reiterated that there should be no general ban on international travel or trade...”
The experts urged authorities in the affected countries - Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone - to work with the aviation and maritime sectors to resolve differences and “develop a coordinated response” to transport issues.
Quarantines may be deemed necessary in areas of intense and widespread transmission of the deadly Ebola virus, the committee statement went on.
“States should ensure that they are proportionate and evidence-based and that accurate information, essential services and commodities, including food and water, are provided to the affected populations.”
WHO advisers earlier recommended the screening of travelers departing Ebola-affected countries from airports and ports.
The committee, composed of some 20 experts who advise WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, declared on Aug. 8 that the epidemic constituted a public health emergency of international concern. The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres has warned since late March that the outbreak, which began in the remote Gueckedou area of southeastern Guinea, is “unprecedented”.
Sierra Leoneans on Sunday celebrated the end of a three-day lockdown meant to stem Ebola’s reach, with authorities saying the move had identified dozens of new infections and located scores of bodies.
Separately on Monday, the WHO said two of the five affected countries - Nigeria and Senegal - were managing to halt the spread of the disease.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Tom Miles and Mark Heinrich