GENEVA (AFP) ― The World Health Organization on Friday declared the killer Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of west Africa an international health emergency and appealed for global aid to help afflicted countries.
The decision after a two-day emergency session behind closed doors in Geneva means global travel restrictions may be put in place to halt its spread as the overall death toll nears 1,000.
The WHO move comes as U.S. health authorities admitted on Thursday that Ebola’s spread beyond west Africa was “inevitable,” and after medical charity Doctors Without Borders warned that the deadly virus was now “out of control” with more than 60 outbreak hotspots.
WHO director Margaret Chan appealed for greater international aid for the countries worst hit by the outbreak, which she described as the most serious in four decades, echoing an earlier claim by MSF that the “epidemic is unprecedented in terms of geographical distribution, people infected and deaths.”
|A Liberian soldier stops people at a security checkpoint set up to clamp down on travel due to the Ebola virus on the outskirts of Monrovia on Thursday. (AP-Yonhap)|
States of emergency were in effect across overwhelmed west African nations, including Libera, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Soldiers in Liberia’s Grand Cape Mount province ― one of the worst-affected areas ― set up road blocks to limit travel to the capital Monrovia, as bodies reportedly lay unburied in the city’s streets.
Two towns in the east of Sierra Leone, Kailahun and Kenema, where put under quarantine on Thursday, as nightclubs and entertainment venues across the country were ordered shut.
Public sector doctors in Nigeria suspended a month-long strike with fears rising that the virus is taking hold in sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous country.
The deadly tropical disease has already killed two and infected five others in Lagos.
Ebola has claimed at least 932 lives and infected more than 1,700 people since breaking out in Guinea earlier this year, according to the WHO.
As African nations struggled with the scale of the epidemic, the scientists who discovered the virus in 1976 have called for an experimental drug being used on two infected Americans to also be made available for African victims.
One of the three, Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said “African countries should have the same opportunity” to use ZMapp, which is made by U.S. company Mapp Pharmaceuticals.
Ebola causes severe fever and, in the worst cases, unstoppable bleeding. It is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, and people who live with or care for patients are most at risk.
Spain flew home a 75-year-old Roman Catholic priest, Miguel Pajares, the first European victim of the epidemic, on Thursday. Officials said his condition was stable.
In Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said people should expect certain rights to be suspended as the country imposes “extraordinary measures” necessary for “the very survival of our state.”
In Sierra Leone, which has the most confirmed infections, 800 troops were sent to guard hospitals treating Ebola patients, an army spokesman said.
The outbreak in Nigeria has been minor compared to those in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The densely-packed city of more than 20 million people has a poor healthcare system and officials say that if Lagos sees a rise in infections, public hospitals will need to be operational in order to avert a catastrophe.
Benin said it had placed two patients with Ebola-like symptoms in isolation and was waiting for test results to establish if the pair were infected.