Ebola’s knock-on effect
African countries instituted further travel bans this week in an effort to contain the Ebola outbreak, ignoring World Health Organisation warnings that such measures could heighten shortages of food and basic supplies in affected areas.
In the West Point slum in Liberia’s capital of Monrovia, the scene of violent clashes with the army on Wednesday after the area was quarantined to curb the spread of Ebola, hundreds of people jostled their way towards trucks loaded with water and rice.
Police used canes to beat back some locals while aid workers helped others dip their fingers in ink to record their ration.
“I ain’t eat since yesterday. I have four young children and none of us eat. I feel bad,” said Hawa Saah, a pregnant 23-year-old resident of West Point, speaking in the pidgin English common here.
Deliveries of basic supplies to more than a million people across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are intended to avoid a food crisis where more than 1 300 people have died from Ebola in the worst outbreak of the disease in history.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has repeatedly said that it does not recommend travel or trade restrictions for the four countries affected by the epidemic that began in March. Shortages of fuel, food and basic supplies due to these measures are starting to affect the countries.
South Africa on Thursday banned all travellers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from entering its territory, aside from its own citizens.
The precautions follow measures from commercial airlines such as Kenya Airways and Gambia Bird, which have suspended flights to affected countries, despite new testing procedures at airports. The US and several European countries have also advised against nonessential travel to the region. Guinea’s President, Alpha Conde, met with airlines on Wednesday in an attempt to persuade them to resume normal service to the country.
“No Guinean has left the country to export Ebola elsewhere. Even the WHO has recognised that Guinea’s measures are sufficient,” he said.
The WHO said it would convene talks early next month on potential treatments and vaccines to contain the outbreak. Ebola has struck hardest in countries with healthcare systems ill-equipped to cope with an epidemic. A department of health report in Liberia, the country where infection is rising fastest, showed 60 new suspected, probable and confirmed cases for just one day on August 19. Two of them were health workers.
In an indication of the strain on local populations, security forces in Monrovia fired live rounds and tear gas on Wednesday as crowds sought to break quarantine restrictions. A 15-year-old boy receiving treatment for gun shot wounds later died, the medical director of the hospital treating him said on Thursday.