Liberia re­stricts ‘in­va­sive’ Ebola me­dia cov­er­age

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Jour­nal­ists will need of­fi­cial per­mis­sion to cover many as­pects of the Ebola out­break in Liberia un­der new rules the gov­ern­ment has said are aimed at pro­tect­ing pa­tients.

The move was an­nounced on Thurs­day, the day an Amer­i­can cam­era­man work­ing for NBC News in Liberia be­came the first for­eign jour­nal­ist to test pos­i­tive for Ebola. There was no in­di­ca­tion the new rules were re­lated to that case.

Grow­ing in­ter­na­tional me­dia in­ter­est in the out­break that has killed nearly 2 000 peo­ple and in­fected 3 696 in Liberia has high­lighted the chal­lenges ex­pe­ri­enced with the west African coun­try’s health­care sys­tem.

Jour­nal­ists could be ar­rested and pros­e­cuted if they fail to get writ­ten per­mis­sion from the health min­istry be­fore con­tact­ing Ebola pa­tients, con­duct­ing in­ter­views or film­ing or pho­tograph­ing health­care fa­cil­i­ties, of­fi­cials said.

Tol­bert Nyenswah, the as­sis­tant min­is­ter of health and head of Liberia’s Ebola In­ci­dent Man­age­ment Sys­tem, said: “We have noted with great con­cern that photographs have been taken in treat­ment cen­tres while pa­tients are go­ing in to be at­tended by doc­tors. That is in­va­sion of the dig­nity, pri­vacy and re­spect of pa­tients.

“Ebola pa­tients are no dif­fer­ent from any other pa­tients. We should do that [re­port] un­der per­mis­sion so that we don’t just take pic­tures or send out sto­ries of naked peo­ple [in a way] that does not re­spect their pri­vacy,” he said.

The out­break of the dis­ease has over­whelmed health sys­tems in the three most af­fected coun­tries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – where it orig­i­nated. It has also spread to Sene­gal and Nige­ria.

The first per­son to be di­ag­nosed with the dis­ease in the US could face pros­e­cu­tion in Liberia for mak­ing a false dec­la­ra­tion on an air­port ques­tion­naire if he re­turns to the coun­try, Liberian of­fi­cials said on Thurs­day.

Thomas Eric Dun­can, a Liberian, had helped a preg­nant woman in Liberia who later died of Ebola, just days be­fore he flew to Texas via Brussels and Wash­ing­ton two weeks ago. On an air­port ques­tion­naire meant to help con­trol the spread of the dis­ease, he wrote that he had not had con­tact with an Ebola suf­ferer.

US au­thor­i­ties said Dun­can was in a se­ri­ous con­di­tion and four of up to 100 peo­ple he had di­rect or in­di­rect con­tact with have been quar­an­tined.

The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion has de­clared the epi­demic an in­ter­na­tional pub­lic health emer­gency, and gov­ern­ments from the US to China, Cuba and Bri­tain have sent troops and medics in an at­tempt to con­tain the dis­ease.

A first batch of 165 med­i­cal staff – 62 doc­tors and 103 nurses – from Cuba ar­rived in Sierra Leone on Thurs­day to join the fight against the dis­ease after more than two weeks of train­ing with in­ter­na­tional ex­perts at a Ha­vana hos­pi­tal spe­cial­is­ing in trop­i­cal dis­eases.

Another 296 Cuban doc­tors and nurses will go to Liberia and Guinea after their train­ing.

Sierra Leone’s Deputy Health Min­is­ter, Mad­ina Rah­man, said: “We have 165 med­i­cal of­fi­cers, qual­i­fied health pro­fes­sion­als, that are here to help us in the figh­t­a­gain­stEbola. Aswe­know, we­need as much health­care and pro­fes­sion­als as pos­si­ble. This will make a dent in the fight, we need more if we can get more.”

– Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Jose­phus Olu-Mammah in Free­town

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