Ebola cases fall to year low but WHO warns of trouble ahead

The World Health Organization on Wednesday hailed the fewest weekly infections for over a year in the west African Ebola epidemic, but warned they were braced for a significant new outbreak in Sierra Leone.

There were just four confirmed cases in Guinea in the week to Sunday and three in Sierra Leone, the WHO said in the latest of its weekly updates on the epidemic.

But it warned that one of the Sierra Leone cases, a patient who died after travelling from the capital Freetown to the central district of Tonkolili, posed “a substantial risk of further transmission”.

“On July 19 the case attended a community hospital complaining of a headache, and was treated as an outpatient and discharged,” the WHO said.

“Two days later on July 21, the case presented to a different hospital and was isolated on admission. The patient died on July 23 and was confirmed (Ebola) positive after post-mortem testing.

“Over 500 contacts have been listed so far, several of whom are deemed to be high risk. Investigations are ongoing to establish the source of infection and identify and trace all contacts.”

The WHO said all of the 500-plus contacts are in Tonkolili, which reported its first new case of Ebola earlier this month, ending a 150-day run of no new infections.

Around 28,000 people have been infected in the two countries and neighbouring Liberia in the worst Ebola outbreak in history, more than 11,000 of them fatally, according to official data widely seen as an underestimate.

Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma has unveiled a two-year post-Ebola “battle plan” to reinvigorate the private sector as an engine for economic growth and job creation.

The programme will be funded by more than $804 million (730 million euros) earmarked for Sierra Leone at this month’s UN Pledging Conference on Ebola.

There was better news elsewhere, with Liberia reporting no new cases in the week to Sunday, following a small outbreak a month ago which dashed hopes that the country had eradicated the spread of the virus among humans for good.

Six people were confirmed infected in the first cluster of cases for three months. Two of them died, but the remaining four have been given the all clear and the country is once again dealing with no known cases.

For the first time since the epidemic emerged in December 2013, Guinea’s new cases were all registered contacts of previous Ebola patients, a strong indicator that the spread of the virus is under control.

The seven cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone represented the lowest weekly total for over a year, the WHO said, snapping a two-month run during which weekly case incidence had plateaued at between 20 and 30.

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Ebola setback for Sierra Leone as capital records new cases

Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown has suffered a fresh outbreak of Ebola, dashing hopes that health authorities in the densely-populated city of 1.2 million had beaten the deadly epidemic.

The government’s National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) told AFP late on Tuesday three cases had emerged in the east-end slum of Magazine Wharf — three weeks after the last known infections in the capital.

Health officials said six people have been placed under observation since the first of the new cases — a casual labourer — tested positive on June 17.

Authorities are concerned that the case could lead to a mini-outbreak in the overcrowded fishing community, which has poor sanitation and is regularly hit by outbreaks of malaria and cholera.

Liberia was declared Ebola-free in May, but hopes that neighbouring Sierra Leone and Guinea would quickly follow suit have been dashed recently.

The World Health Organization said, in its latest update on the epidemic on Wednesday, that weekly case incidence had stalled at between 20 and 27 since the end of May.

New cases were continuing to “arise from unknown sources of infection, and to be detected only after post-mortem testing of community deaths”, the WHO said, a key indication that the outbreak is not under control.

“The bumpy road to zero will continue to try our resolve and patience to the limit but I ask for your commitment and understanding while we head towards the final stage of this fight,” NERC chief executive Palo Conteh told reporters in Freetown.

“Text books tell us that the last stages of any outbreak of this nature can be difficult and frustrating and I can confirm from personal experience that they are right.”

– ‘Overwhelming’ –

One of the deadliest viruses known to man, Ebola is spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms, such as fever or vomiting, or the recently deceased.

Authorities have blamed the failure of Sierra Leone and Guinea to eradicate the virus on people hiding deaths in the family and carrying out unsafe burials that are aiding Ebola’s spread.

Conteh said he had received reports of expert disposal teams demanding up to one million leones ($240) from bereaved families for burials and promised a “full inquiry” to bring the practice to a stop.

According to the WHO, as of Sunday there had been 27,443 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, of which 11,207 were fatal.

Sierra Leone has seen almost half of the total caseload, reporting more than 3,900 deaths.

People in the worst-hit chiefdoms of Kambia and Port Loko have been confined to their homes until the beginning of July over fears that the disease is also resurgent in the northwest.

Sierra Leone reported eight cases, including two in Marampa chiefdom in Port Loko for the first time since the beginning of March — a mother who died in childbirth and her newborn.

As of Sunday over a thousand Sierra Leoneans were under observation as potential contacts of people who had contracted Ebola, the WHO said.

The country has also extended until September a nationwide state of emergency. The move restricts public gatherings and other activities that could spread the virus.

Authorities in Kambia said an extra 800 soldiers and 700 police had been deployed to ensure locals respect the regulations.

“There are increased human resources available and the presence of the security forces is overwhelming,” said Alfred Kamara, the district Ebola coordinator, adding that around 600 people had been quarantined in two villages.

Photo Credits : AFP

Ebola deaths pass 11,000 mark: WHO

The number of deaths from the Ebola epidemic now exceeds 11,000, figures from the World Health Organization showed on Wednesday.

In the three countries worst affected — Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea — 26,593 people were infected, and 11,005 had died, the WHO said.

The worst ever outbreak of Ebola began in southern Guinea in December 2013 before spreading to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Liberia has recorded the most deaths with 4,716, while 3,903 have died in Sierra Leone and 2,386 have died in Guinea.

Although the number of cases has topped 11,000, the WHO is due to declare on May 9 that the epidemic is over in Liberia, unless there are any new cases in the country before then.

The number of new infections are also dwindling in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Only nine new cases were recorded in each country last week, the lowest figures for almost a year.

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West Africa battles mystery of ‘post-Ebola syndrome’

As the Ebola epidemic retreats across west Africa, international health authorities are turning their attention to the little understood long-term effects of the often-deadly virus on the survivors.

There is little research on patients cured of the tropical fever, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged that many are experiencing crippling complications long after walking out of treatment units.

Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s new head in Africa, told AFP that Liberian survivors had been reporting a range of problems, including sight and hearing impairment.

“We need to be aware that (complications) may be occurring and pay attention when people are being treated in case there is something that can be done to help them,” she told AFP in the Liberian capital Monrovia.

Moeti said the UN agency had initially focused on keeping people alive in its battle against the worst ever outbreak of the virus, which it says has left almost 11,000 people dead in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

“So we are very much learning about this,” Moeti told AFP.

More than 26,000 people have been infected with Ebola since the outbreak began in December 2013, according to the WHO, which admits the official mortality figures are probably some way short of the real death toll.

The epidemic ravaged the three countries, infecting hundreds of people a week during its peak last autumn, but the spread has slowed to a crawl.

Liberia, once the hardest hit country, has reported no new cases since the last patient died on March 27 and was buried a day later.

– ‘Patients are now blind’ –

Moeti’s comments were prompted as she toured Monrovia’s health facilities and Ebola-hit communities on Wednesday, where she met Beatrice Yordoldo, the last Liberian patient to leave a treatment centre alive.

Yordoldo, who was discharged on March 5, said the “majority of the survivors” she had spoken to were complaining of impaired sight and hearing, headaches and other complications.

The WHO acknowledged the issue as early as October, when it carried an interview on its website with a psychosocial support officer in Kenema, eastern Sierra Leone.

“We are seeing a lot of people with vision problems. Some complain of clouded vision, but for others the visual loss is progressive. I have seen two people who are now blind,” Margaret Nanyonga said.

Nanyonga, who calls the problem “post-Ebola syndrome”, said visual problems had affected around half of Ebola survivors in Kenema, while others complained of joint, muscle and chest pain and extreme fatigue.

“We need to understand why these symptoms persist, whether they are caused by the disease or treatment, or perhaps the heavy disinfection,” Nanyonga said.

With research thin on the ground, health authorities have no real measure of the extent of the problem, but it doesn’t appear to be confined to Africa.

American nurse Nina Pham, who was infected while caring for a Liberian man at a Texas hospital, told the Dallas Morning News last month she had experienced hair loss, aches and insomnia after being given the all-clear in October.

– Focus on saving lives –

Aches and fatigue are common side-effects in patients recovering from serious infection, resulting from the immune system’s release of chemicals to fight the illness.

But experts admit they don’t yet know if this is what is going on inside the bodies of Ebola survivors.

The speed of the spread of the virus took the world by surprise, and by the time a concerted international effort was in place to stem the epidemic, it had already overwhelmed the health services of the worst-hit countries.

The epidemic has dwarfed all previous outbreaks combined — fewer than 2,500 cases were recorded between Ebola’s discovery in 1976 and the current outbreak — and has killed around two-thirds of those infected, experts believe.

While survivors of previous outbreaks reported health complications, past epidemics were never big enough to warrant in-depth research into the after-effects.

A rare upside of the scale of the current outbreak has been that there are thousands of survivors who can be studied to give health authorities the knowledge to be better prepared for future outbreaks.

Moeti, a qualified medic who took up her five-year appointment in February, says the WHO is just beginning to play catch-up in its research into post-Ebola complications.

“I think this is something about which we need to learn more in detail for the future so that… as part of treating people with Ebola we are looking out for these kind of symptoms,” she told AFP.

“Because I think in the first acute treatment of people with Ebola our focus (was) on keeping them alive and perhaps these other symptoms emerged later on.”

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Experimental Ebola vaccine effective in monkeys: study

An experimental Ebola vaccine has been shown to effectively protect monkeys against the often-deadly virus, according to a study published Thursday.

The new medicine, described in the journal Science, is what is known as a “whole virus” vaccine.

This means it is based on a non-active form of the entire virus instead of just fragments, and is more likely to trigger a broad immune response.

“The new vaccine differs from other Ebola vaccines,” a statement from the University of Wisconsin-Madison read. “As an inactivated whole virus vaccine, it primes the host immune system with the full complement of Ebola viral proteins and genes, potentially conferring greater protection.”

The vaccine was constructed on an experimental platform that lets researchers safely work with the virus by deleting a key gene the Ebola virus needs to make a protein required to reproduce. The Ebola virus has only eight genes.

“In terms of efficacy, this affords excellent protection,” said study author Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a University of Wisconsin-Madison virus expert. “It is also a very safe vaccine.”

Successful tests were carried out on macaques at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Rocky Mountain Laboratories, a top biosafety facility in Montana.

Whole virus vaccines have successfully prevented serious diseases such as polio, influenza and hepatitis, the statement read.

Macaques are very susceptible to Ebola and Kawaoka noted that, “if you get protection with (these animals), it’s working.”

The current Ebola epidemic is the most serious since the virus emerged in 1976 in Sudan and Zaire.

There is no licensed vaccine against the disease which has killed more than 10,000 people in west Africa out of nearly 25,000 infected since the start of 2014, mainly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Several promising treatments are being fast-tracked through the normally years-long trial process.

Two possible vaccines currently being developed — CAd3 by Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline and VSV-EBOV by Merck and NewLink Genetics — have both passed safety tests on humans.

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Ebola death toll passes 10,000: WHO

The global death toll from the Ebola outbreak centred in west Africa has topped 10,000 out of more than 24,000 recorded cases, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Almost all the deaths and cases have been reported in the three west African countries worst hit by the outbreak: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

There have also been six deaths in Mali, one in the United States and eight in Nigeria, all of which have since been declared Ebola-free.

Spain and Senegal, which have also been declared free of Ebola, had one case each but no deaths.

The WHO on Wednesday said the fight against Ebola was “going in the right direction”.

– Sierra Leone –

Sierra Leone, which has overtaken Liberia as the country with the most infections, counted 11,677 cases and 3,655 deaths as of March 10.

– Liberia –

As of March 5, Liberia — long the hardest-hit country — had recorded a total of 9,343 and 4,162 deaths.

But the tide seems to be turning in the country which in August and September was reporting more than 300 new cases each week, with the WHO saying Wednesday that Liberia had registered no new cases since February 19.

Liberia’s last confirmed Ebola patient was discharged from hospital after testing negative for the virus for the second time on March 3, the UN body said.

That means Liberia started its 42-day, or two incubation-period, countdown towards being considered Ebola free on March 4.

– Guinea –

In Guinea, where the outbreak started in December 2013, 3,330 Ebola cases and 2,187 deaths were recorded as of March 10.

The WHO said on Wednesday that the country had seen no new cases in the previous 10 days.

– Healthcare workers –

Ebola, one of the deadliest viruses known to man, is spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms such as fever or vomiting.

People caring for the sick or handling the bodies of people infected with Ebola are especially exposed.

As of January 4, a total of 838 healthcare workers were known to have contracted the virus, and 495 of them had died, the WHO said.

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Sierra Leone vice president in Ebola quarantine

Sierra Leone’s Vice President Sam Sumana has placed himself in quarantine following the Ebola death of one of his guards, a government spokesman said Saturday, as the country reintroduced travel restrictions as the number of new cases rises again.

Sumana “has decided to place himself in precautionary quarantine awaiting the results of tests by the health authorities”, the spokesman said.

Sumana’s bodyguard, 42-year-old John Koroma, died from Ebola on Friday, medical sources said.

Sources at the vice president’s office said Sumana is not in danger but had decided to stay out of his office for the next 21 days and work from his home in the west of the capital.

The government voiced “grave concern” that the fall in the number of new cases seen in the west African nation in recent weeks has been reversed.

“The common denominator in the new cases is involvement with maritime activities,” the presidency said in a statement.

The authorities, therefore, decided that no boat can enter the country overnight, with marine police alerted to impose the rule. Restrictions were also placed on commercial vehicles and on the number of passengers carried by taxis, lorries and other vehicles.

Ebola restrictions were eased in January as the number of new cases fell, in an attempt to boost the economy.

However on Wednesday Sierra Leone said it was seeing a spike in Ebola infections, blaming unsafe burials that threaten to undermine the recovery from the deadly epidemic.

The west African nation, which has registered some 3,400 deaths in the nine months since the outbreak spread from neighbouring Guinea, had seen a steady decline in new cases over recent months.

Ebola, one of the deadliest viruses known to man, is spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of the recently deceased or an infected person showing symptoms such as fever or vomiting.

More than 9,500 people have died of the disease since the west African epidemic emerged in southern Guinea in December 2013.

Liberia has registered the highest death toll of 4,037 fatal cases while Sierra Leone has seen almost half of the total of 23,694 cases.

While Liberia is showing only a tiny handful of new cases each week, Guinea and Sierra Leone continue to be a worry to the authorities, who say they still do not have the epidemic under control.

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma leaves for Brussels on Sunday to co-reside with the EU at an international meeting on the fight against Ebola and measures to facilitate reconstruction in the countries hit by the virus.

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Asian herb derivative could work against Ebola

A small molecule derived from an Asian herb may help stop Ebola infection by preventing the virus from entering the cells of the body, researchers said Thursday.

So far the research using the calcium channel blocker Tetrandrine, found in some Chinese and Japanese herbs, against Ebola has only been done in lab animals and in petri dishes.

However, the findings so far warrant tests in primates before possibly being tried in people, said the authors of the study in the journal Science.

Researchers studied several existing drugs currently used to treat high blood pressure in order to find out which small molecules were best at blocking the Ebola virus from moving any further through the cell.

Tetrandrine protected mice from disease without obvious side effects, and appeared to be the most potent of the compounds tested.

“When we tested in mice, the drugs stopped virus replication and saved most of them from disease,” said Robert Davey, scientist and Ewing Halsell Scholar in the Department of Immunology and Virology at Texas Biomedical Research Institute.

“We are very excited about the progress made in this study and the momentum it provides as scientists across the world vigorously search for effective vaccines and treatments against Ebola virus,” Davey said.

There is no drug on the market to treat Ebola, which has killed more than 9,000 people, mainly in West Africa, since 2013 in the world’s largest outbreak to date.

“We are cautiously optimistic. The next step in the process is to test both safety and effectiveness of the interaction of the drug with Ebola virus in non-human primates,” said Davey.

Co-authors on the research came from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; the Center for Integrated Protein Science Munich (CIPSM) at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat München in Munich, Germany; and the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

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Terrorists could use Ebola to kill thousands warfare experts have warned

Terrorists could use Ebola to kill thousands of Britons, a secret study by germ warfare experts has revealed. Documents marked “UK Secret Eyes Only” show the MoD has studied three ways the virus could be used as a weapon in the UK.

The investigation was carried out at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down in Wiltshire. The study followed a request for guidance on “the feasibility and potential impact of a non-state actor exploiting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa for bioterrorism”.

Less than two weeks after the assessment last October the Government ordered screening of passengers at Heathrow airport. Terror experts at MI5 aim to block any effort to “weaponise” Ebola, which is spread by body fluids. An edited version of the study has emerged after a freedom of information request.

War, Ebola, elections top African Union summit

Conflict in Africa, especially the violence of Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgents, and efforts to stem Ebola is top of the agenda as African leaders gather for their annual summit this week. While the official theme of the African Union meeting will be women’s empowerment, leaders from the 54-member bloc will once again be beset by a string of crises across the continent when they meet at the AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital on Friday and Saturday.

AU chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who has said she is “deeply horrified” at the rise of Boko Haram, has said she will use the summit to drum up “renewed collective African efforts” to tackle the Islamists.

Boko Haram are “not just a threat to some countries, it is a threat to the whole continent,” Dlamini-Zuma said this week, with pressure mounting to set up a regional five-nation force of some 3,000 troops, currently stalled amid arguments between Nigeria and its neighbours.

More than 13,000 people have been killed and more than one million made homeless by Boko Haram violence since 2009.

With over a dozen elections due to take place this year across Africa, the focus will also be on how to ensure peaceful polls. The Institute for Security Studies, an African think-tank, warns that “many of these are being held in a context that increases the risk of political violence.”

Wars in South Sudan and the Central African Republic — both nations scheduled to hold elections — as well as in Libya are also due to draw debate.

South Sudan’s warring parties are due to meet on the sidelines of the summit, in the latest push for a lasting peace deal, with six previous ceasefire commitments never holding for more than a few days — and sometime just hours — on the ground.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in more than a year of civil war, with peace talks led by the regional East African bloc IGAD due to restart on Friday.

The question of membership to the International Criminal Court is also set to be debated. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who last month celebrated the dropping of crimes against humanity charges against him at The Hague-based ICC, will again be lobbying other leaders to push for an alternative African court that will rival what he has branded the anti-African ICC.

As leaders prepare to meet, observers say the real deals are struck on the sidelines of the talks, with past summits full of unfulfilled promises.

“The AU makes very lengthy statements and declarations with no effective follow-up or implementation. This frustrates many people,” said Solomon Dersso of the Institute for Security Studies. top the agenda as African leaders gather for their annual summit this week.

UN reports significant drop in Ebola cases

The deadly Ebola epidemic is slowing significantly in the three west African countries at its epicentre, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, adding that those countries were now adequately equipped to stem the tide.

The UN health agency said in its latest update that a total of 8,626 people had died as of January 18, almost all of them in west Africa, since the epidemic broke out in December 2013. There were 21,689 confirmed cases.

But decrypting the figures revealed rare good news in the worst ever outbreak of the disease which sparked a health scare the world over.

“Case incidence continues to fall in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone,” the WHO said. Liberia, for instance, which had a peak over 300 new cases per week in August and September, only notched up eight last week. The UN agency also said the three hardest-hit countries which have a creaky health infrastructure and were struggling to deal with the epidemic were now adequately equipped largely thanks to international help.

They now have “sufficient capacity to isolate and treat patients,” it said.


Ebola could stop FGM in Sierra Leone

2014 recorded the worst ever Ebola outbreak in the world, and in this light considering the fact that Ebola is contracted through body fluids.

Sierra Leone has temporarily banned FGM and anyone who is caught practising the act will be fined  500,000 leones ($118) or an equivalent of sh.10,502  for performing female circumcisions.

In continuing with practising Female Genital Mutilation, apart from its obvious health risks it will  hinder the progress made in eradicating and controlling the spread of Ebola. Human rights organizations see the move as an auspicious opportunity to get rid of the practice for good.

According the the Huffingtonpost, a UNICEF consultant is quoted as saying that the fact that some communities have chosen not to practice FGM during the crisis, together with evidence on the effect and impact these bans have had on FGM, could be valuable for developing interventions for total abandonment of the practise.

The girls aged between 9-12 are cut, before the onset of puberty with the goal of ensuring that they remain virgins before marriage and are faithful to their husbands once they wed, according to UNICEF.

The practice is usually carried out during summer vacations and in December and early January, meaning that the recent ban has spared an entire wave of girls who would’ve otherwise been cut.




Mali government, UN declare country Ebola-free

The Malian government and the United Nations on Sunday declared the country free of Ebola after registering 42 days without any new cases of the deadly virus.

“I declare this day… the end of the epidemic of the Ebola virus in Mali,” Health Minister Ousmane Kone said.

Ibrahima Soce Fall, the head of the Malian office of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UMEER), confirmed the country “had come out” of the epidemic.

Photo Credits : AFP

Ebola tests for all players at Afcon

All teams arriving in Equatorial Guinea for the African Nations Cup must travel through the capital Malabo and have tests for the Ebola virus, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) said on Wednesday.

Those who show any signs of the contagious virus, or who refused to be examined, could be quarantined for up to 21 days.

“Everyone arriving at the Nations Cup must respect the medical rules and regulations,” CAF said in a statement.

The tough regulations reflect fears of the spread of the deadly haemorrhagic fever that led Morocco to ask for a postponement of the 16-team tournament.

Instead they were stripped of their hosting rights and Equatorial Guinea stepped in at the last moment to take over.

The worst epidemic of the virus on record has killed more than 8,371 people and infected 21,171 in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to World Health Organization figures released on Monday.

Guinea are competing at the Nations Cup but the other two countries not.

Sierra Leone now has means to control Ebola epidemic: UN

Sierra Leone now has the means to curb the Ebola epidemic, the new head of the UN mission for the fight against the disease and a senior World Health Organization official said.

“Sierra Leone is in much better shape today to control Ebola than it was a few weeks ago,” UN Ebola mission chief Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said at a press conference in the capital Freetown Friday, on his first visit to the west African countries ravaged by the outbreak.

“From everything I’ve seen so far, I am optimistic that Sierra Leone can get by,” he said, though he warned it would require “considerable effort by all”.

WHO deputy head Bruce Aylward said it was his fifth trip to the country and that on the previous four it was clear that Sierra Leone could not stop Ebola.

He said there had been a huge change since his last visit, with beds available and burial teams, but stressed the need to use the new resources effectively.

The officials spoke as the government said Pujehun district in the south had become the first in the country to have no new cases registered for 42 days, twice the incubation period of the virus.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the worst since the virus was identified in 1976, has left nearly 8,300 people dead with more than 21,000 cases identified since December of last year, according to WHO figures.

The vast majority of the cases have been confined to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Photo Credits : AFP

Liberia reports dozens of new Ebola cases

Authorities in Liberia say there have been dozens of new Ebola cases erupting along the border with Sierra Leone. The announcement by Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah on Monday marks a setback for Liberia, which has seen the number of cases stabilize somewhat after having been the hardest hit country in West Africa.

Nyenswah blamed the flare-up on a number of factors including people going in and out of the country and traditional practices such as the washing of bodies.

Nearly 3,400 people have died from Ebola in Liberia over the past year with nearly 8,000 cases, though health officials say the situation has improved especially in the capital, Monrovia.

Sierra Leone, by comparison, has now eclipsed Liberia with more than 9,000 cases, according to the World Health Organization.

Ebola expert calls for European anti-virus ‘corps’

Europe will be “vulnerable” if it does not regard viruses as a “national security issue” like the United States, the microbiologist who discovered Ebola said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s time the UK and Europe had a well-trained corps of people who are globally experienced and deployable,” Peter Piot told the British daily The Independent.

“We don’t have that and that makes us vulnerable,” said the Belgian scientist, who is director of the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London.

Piot, who recently returned from a visit to treatment centres in Sierra Leone, praised the Centres for Disease Control in the United States as a “formidable force”.

“We don’t have this ‘epidemic intelligence service’. You don’t want to depend on information coming from the US… That’s a national security issue,” he said.

The paper quoted a response from a spokesman for the British health ministry saying: “The outbreak has shown the need to strengthen global response to epidemics and the UK will play its full part.”

Piot has been highly critical of the delay in local and international responses to the outbreak in west Africa, but said that now “the effort is paying off”.

“There is an opportunity to make sure that this is the last Ebola epidemic where all we have to beat it is quarantine,” he said.

Piot co-discovered the virus in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, naming it after a nearby river.

“I couldn’t imagine it would get out of control,” he told The Independent.

The World Health Organization said on Monday that more than 7,500 have died from the Ebola virus in the past year — almost all of them in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In Liberia, Ebola steals Christmas

The Ebola epidemic has cast a dark shadow over Christmas this year in Liberia, where small businesses are especially feeling the pinch.

“This is the worst Christmas we have ever seen,” said Isaac G. Chea, a trader. “Because of the Ebola crisis… people don’t want to come in the market, there where people gather; touching each other” for fear of contracting the disease.

Monrovia residents cannot remember a more morose Christmas period since the west African country’s back-to-back civil wars, which claimed some 250,000 lives between 1989 and 2003.

The Ebola crisis, which has seen more than 3,000 Liberians lose their lives, prompted President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to cancel a traditional event in which she invites children to her office to give them Christmas presents.

Some youths and children could be seen engaging in another Christmas tradition — putting on disguises and dancing in the streets to raise pocket money to buy presents with — but the usual verve was lacking.

More prominent were anti-Ebola teams plying the streets of the capital and suburbs urging people to be particularly vigilant against the disease during the holidays.

Samuel Streete, an engineer, told AFP: “I told my family, I told my kids that they are not going out. No celebration, we will stay home and watch movies all day because of Ebola.”

Angie Gardea, a cosmetician, said business had fallen off. “Customers are not really pouring in like before, so today I could not buy my children Christmas clothes.”

Nor has Sunny Fassiah, 53, bought any Christmas presents this year. “You celebrate only when you are healthy,” he said. “Ebola is still here, we have to keep the biggest portion of the money for preventive measures and preventive medicine.”

Posters aimed at raising awareness about preventing the spread of Ebola were far more prominent than Christmas decorations in the capital of the impoverished nation.

The killer disease in the year-old outbreak has claimed 7,588 lives overall so far, almost all in the three contiguous countries.

In a small sign that Liberia is at last turning the corner, it was finally able on Saturday to hold Senate elections that had been postponed twice because of the epidemic.

But Streete, the engineer, said that even if containment efforts seemed to be bearing fruit, Liberians should not “be wild, going around and celebrating like our tradition; no! Things have to be different for this Christmas. That’s the main thing.”