Ebola outbreak: West Africans back lifting travel bans

Passengers queue to leave Liberia's Roberts International Airport near Monrovia (28 August 2014) Image copyright AFP
Image caption The WHO says that travel bans are jeopardising efforts to beat the epidemic

West African health ministers have called for travel restrictions imposed to combat Ebola to be lifted.

The ministers followed advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) which said that the restrictions create food and supply shortages and harm efforts to contain the deadly virus.

The WHO says the West Africa outbreak could infect more than 20,000 people.

It has already killed more than 1,500 of the 3,000 people infected in four countries.

The WHO said it was important that airlines resume "vital" flights across the region, because travel bans were threatening efforts to beat the epidemic.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Proper screening will stop the spread of the virus, officials argue
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Bruce Aylward, a top WHO official, said the number of cases could be much higher than reported

"This is not a West African issue or an African issue. This is a global health security issue," WHO's Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward told reporters in Geneva.

It recommends that countries affected by Ebola should conduct exit screening amid concerns that the virus could spread to 10 further countries beyond the four now affected.

The number of deaths from Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria now stands at 1,552.

Image caption Fatoumata Kone, centre, says she is afraid of death because "it is not a trip that you can return from"

At the scene: Tamasin Ford, BBC News, Ivory Coast-Guinea border:

"Scared" seems to be the word people living along the Liberian and Guinean borders are using every day now.

Fatoumata Kone explains how they have stopped eating bushmeat.

They no longer shake hands and even refrain from having sex - anything to stop Ebola from taking a hold of their precious community.

"I'm afraid of death, because it is not a trip that you can return from," she says.

How Ivory Coast is trying to halt Ebola

Announcing an action plan by the WHO to deal with the outbreak, Dr Aylward said "the actual number of cases may be 2-4 fold higher than that currently reported" in some urban areas.

The plan calls for $489 million (£295m) to be spent over the next nine months and requires 750 international workers and 12,000 national workers across West Africa.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The transport of medical supplies should become easier if travel restrictions are lifted

On Thursday, Nigeria confirmed its first Ebola death outside Lagos, with an infected doctor in the oil hub of Port Harcourt dying from the disease.

Operations have not yet been affected in Africa's biggest oil producer, but a spokesman for Shell's Nigerian subsidiary said they were "monitoring the Ebola outbreak very closely".

The health ministers from across West Africa attended an extraordinary meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) in Ghana's capital Accra to discuss how to prevent the virus from spreading.

"Excessive restrictions of travel and border closures will adversely affect the economies of the sub-region," said Ecowas chairman and Ghana's President John Mahama.

West African countries, including regional hubs Ivory Coast and Senegal, have banned all travel to and from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, while several airlines have stopped flights.

We earlier reported that the health ministers had lifted the travel bans in the region but this is not the case.

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Media captionThe BBC's Tomi Oladipo says Nigeria has recorded its first Ebola death outside Lagos

Earlier Mr Aylward insisted bans on travel and trade would not stop the spread of Ebola, saying they were "more likely to compromise the ability to respond".

Despite rumours to the contrary, the virus is not airborne and is spread by humans coming into contact with bodily fluids, such as sweat and blood, from those infected with virus.

Meanwhile, the British medical charity Wellcome Trust and pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) said safety trials on an experimental Ebola vaccine are being fast-tracked.

GSK says it plans to build up a stockpile of up to 10,000 doses for emergency deployment if results from the trials, which could begin as soon as next month, are good.

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)

  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% - but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 55%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus's natural host

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