Last Ebola-free region of Liberia falls to virus

Monrovia - Every region of Liberia has now been hit by Ebola, officials said on Friday, as the World Health Organisation warned the fight against the worst-ever outbreak of the killer disease would take months.

After seeing people fall to the deadly virus in area after area, Liberia said two people had succumbed to the virus in Sinoe province, the last Ebola-free bastion in a country that has seen the biggest toll with 624 deaths.

The virus has spread relentlessly through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and Nigeria has also been affected despite showing some progress in fighting the epidemic, which has killed 1 427 people since March.

"(Sinoe) was the last area untouched by Ebola," George Williams, head of the Health Workers Association of Liberia, told AFP.

Chaotic scenes

The country has witnessed chaotic scenes in recent days following a surge in the number of patients dying of the hemorrhagic fever.

Aid workers said crematoriums in the capital of Monrovia were struggling to deal with bodies arriving every day, and earlier this week, violence erupted in an Ebola quarantine zone in the capital after soldiers opened fire on protesting crowds.

In a bid to ease the crisis, medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is working on nearly quadrupling the capacity of its Ebola centre in Monrovia.

"Currently we have around 60 patients for a capacity of 120 beds," said Henry Gray, an MSF coordinator.

"And we are making our site bigger. In the next 10 days, we hope to have a location that can welcome up to 400 patients."

In neighbouring Nigeria, officials said Friday that two more people had tested positive for Ebola, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 14, including five deaths.

In a news conference in Monrovia, WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Keiji Fukuda on Friday warned efforts to combat the disease would take some time.

"This is not something to turn around overnight, it is not going to be easy; we expect several months of hard work. We expect several months really struggling with this outbreak," he said at a press conference alongside Dr David Nabarro.

Flare up

Nabarro, a physician appointed by the United Nations last week to co-ordinate the global response to the worst-ever outbreak of the disease, was in Monrovia as part of a tour of the region.

Speaking to AFP, he said he was determined to "ensure that every piece of our apparatus is at its optimum so it could deal possibly with a flare-up if that's necessary".

Nabarro is also due to visit Freetown, Conakry and Abuja during the trip, where he is tasked with revitalising the health sectors of affected countries.

No cure or vaccine is currently available for the deadly virus, which is spread by close contact with body fluids, meaning patients must be isolated.

However, two American missionaries who contracted Ebola while treating patients in Liberia made a full recovery in the United States. The two were treated with experimental drugs.

The failure of west African countries to bring the epidemic under control has worried its neighbours and nations further afield.

Senegal on Thursday closed its land border with Guinea, where 396 people have died to date, in an attempt to stop the epidemic reaching it.

Gabon, meanwhile, suspended flights and maritime links from affected countries, and said it would deliver visas to travellers coming from the Ebola zone "on a case-by-case basis".

Jail time

In a further, urgent effort to contain the epidemic, Sierra Leone's parliament passed a law on Friday that imposes a jail term of up to two years for anyone concealing an Ebola-infected patient.

Ibrahim Bundu, a senior parliamentary figure, took the opportunity to blast some of the country's allies over their closures of land borders or flight suspensions.

"We are appalled by... the isolation imposed by those that we considered our best friends at a sub-regional, regional and global level," he said.

Meanwhile, as fears grow that the outbreak will spread across Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo - where Ebola was first identified in 1976 in what was then Zaire - said a fever of unidentified origin had killed 13 people in the country's northwest since August 11.

But a WHO official and MSF said on Friday it was too soon to tell whether a haemorrhagic fever caused the deaths, and the results of swabs are due in a week's time.

Eunice Nokulunga 2014/08/23 10:47:24 AM
in the name of jesus we will get throu dis dieases
Embe Groenewald 2014/08/23 10:55:44 AM
So they want to put people exposed to Ebola in JAIL, how does this make sence. Sure, people should be encouraged to report cases but threatening them with jail time will have the opposite effect. An outbreak of Ebola in prison, what are these people thinking.
Bento Maepa 2014/08/23 10:59:25 AM
Liberia should understand that the closure of borders and suspension of flights is not done out of spite. It is part of a bigger strategy to contain the disease. All must now rally around the affected regions with whatever supplies they might need to fight the scourge.
John Greystoke 2014/08/23 11:04:47 AM
Good bye Liberia, it was nice knowing you.
Motho Fela 2014/08/23 11:52:07 AM
God help his this country and its people.
John Greystoke 2014/08/23 12:48:35 PM
@Motho, everything that happens is the will of God. Don't you know that? He as OK'ed this disease to kill lot's of people! It says in the bible that the will of God is the last say! I do not have to prove anything! You are sucker enough to believe in your God! You go on praying till the skin on your knees are worn through, this decease will follow it's course!
Iloma Marais 2014/08/23 01:02:59 PM
Motho Fela, you've taken the words out of my mouth. Yesterday at OR Tambo, in the women's bathrooms downstairs at boarding gates E, a woman was puking her guts out and no one even batted an eyelid! There was no security alert and the unconcerned cleaner was using the same dirty rag she has just used to clean the vomit form the toilet basin and stall, to wipe all the basins and counters. There were no antiseptic cleaner in site. In fact, the poor sick women has just been moved to the stall next door, while the "cleaned" stall still smelled strongly of vomit, but was open for use and not blocked off to prevent other travelers from using it. And that from the boarding gate area where flights departed to all destinations across the whole of SA! If that poor woman had Ebola or even just a simple stomach bug, it has now already been spread by passengers all over the country! Surely the airport staff needed to have been trained in identifying and dealing with sick passengers? Aren't there any security measures in place? What about the poor cleaner who has been exposed? Hasn't she been trained to minimise the risk of being infected by all kinds of diseases from passengers?
Phukza Tshwani Mogotsi 2014/08/23 01:47:52 PM
Does Obama still think it's too early to send the experimental treatment? ??