An Ebola outbreak in West Africa is spreading out of control. Sierra Leone, considered the epicentre of the deadly virus, has declared a public health emergency to tackle the outbreak.
To date, 729 people in West Africa have died since the first case of Ebola was detected in February. The highest number of deaths was recorded in Sierra Leone followed by Liberia and Guinea. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been 1,300 cases of the virus.
President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, echoed measures taken by neighbouring Liberia, by announcing security forces would be called in to quarantine areas where the virus is prevalent. He has cancelled a scheduled trip to Washington for the US-Africa summit.
Meanwhile, Nigerian health authorities want to trace tens of thousands of people who could be at risk of contracting Ebola.
Many airlines have suspended flights to the region. However, WHO is not recommending any travel restrictions or border closures due to the outbreak. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), there would be a low risk to other passengers if an Ebola patient flew.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond spoke after an emergency government meeting about the virus.
“In terms of the UK, the issue is about the possibility of somebody who has contracted the disease in Africa getting sick here,” he said.
“It is not about the disease spreading in the UK, because we have frankly different standards of infection control procedure which would make that most unlikely,” Hammond added.
However, UK border control staff reportedly feel “unprepared” to deal with possible cases of the virus arriving at the frontier, according to the Immigration Service Union (ISU) general secretary, Lucy Moreton.
“They serve on the front line,” she told press in Britain. “They are the first point of contact usually for people coming off an aircraft and the concern is what do they do if they’re confronted with someone that doesn’t appear well who appears at the border.”
“There is no health facility at the border, there is no containment facility, and until extremely recently there has been no guidance issued to staff at all as to what they should do,” Moreton added.
Meanwhile Sheik Umar Khan, the 39-year-old doctor leading Sierra Leone’s fight against the Ebola outbreak has died from the virus.
Anja Wolz, an emergency coordinator with charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said:
“I would say, we are on the top of an iceberg at the moment because the contact tracing is not really functioning. This is one of the major issues that we have. Because, to find the patient as soon as possible, and to refer them to the case management centre, it’s the basic for an Ebola outbreak.”
The US Peace Corps said it is pulling more than 300 volunteers out of West Africa because of the spreading of the virus.
The contagious disease has symptoms that include vomiting, diarrhoea, and internal and external bleeding.
There is no known cure.