News World news Guinea Guinea faces Ebola epidemic on unprecedented scale, doctors warn

Nurses put on protective gear to treat Ebola patients in the southern Guinean town of GueckedouGuinea faces an Ebola epidemic on an unprecedented scale as it battles to contain confirmed cases now scattered across several locations that are far apart, the medical charity Médecins sans Frontières said.

The warning from an organisation used to tackling Ebola in central Africa came after Guinea’s president appealed for calm as the number of deaths linked to an outbreak on the border with Liberia and Sierra Leone passed 80.

The outbreak of one of the world’s most lethal infectious diseases has alarmed a number of governments with weak health systems, prompting Senegal to close its border with Guinea and other neighbours to restrict travel and cross-border exchanges.

Figures released overnight by Guinea’s health ministry showed that there had been 78 deaths from 122 cases of suspected Ebola since January, up from 70. Of these, there were 22 laboratory-confirmed cases of Ebola, the ministry said.

“We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country,” said Mariano Lugli, the co-ordinator of Médecins sans Frontières’ project in Conakry, the capital of Guinea.

The organisation said on Monday it had been involved in dealing with nearly all other recent Ebola outbreaks, mostly in remote parts of central African nations, but Guinea is fighting to contain the disease in numerous locations, some of which are hundreds of miles apart.

“This geographical spread is worrisome because it will greatly complicate the tasks of the organisations working to control the epidemic,” Lugli added.

The outbreak of Ebola – a virus which has a fatality rate of up to 90% – has centred on Guinea’s south-east. But it took authorities six weeks to identify the disease, allowing it to spread over borders and to more populated areas.

Cases were confirmed in Conakry last week, bringing the disease – previously limited to remote, lightly populated areas – to a sprawling Atlantic Ocean port of two million people.

Guinea’s president, Alpha Condé, appealed for calm late on Sunday. “My government and I are very worried about this epidemic,” he said, ordering Guineans to take strict precautions to avoid the further spread of the disease.

“I also call on people not to give in to panic or believe the rumours that are fuelling people’s fears,” he added.

Liberia has recorded seven suspected and confirmed cases, including four deaths, the World Health Organisation said. Sierra Leone has reported five suspected cases, none of which have been confirmed yet.

Brima Kargbo, Sierra Leone’s chief medical officer, said a screening process had been introduced on the country’s northern border with Guinea. Travellers are being asked where they are coming from and whether they or anyone they had been in contact with had fallen ill, he said.

Senegal, another neighbour of Guinea, closed its land border over the weekend and has suspended weekly markets near the border to prevent the spread of the disease.

The regional airline Gambia Bird delayed the launch of services to Conakry, due to start on Sunday, because of the outbreak.

If the deaths are all confirmed as Ebola, a disease that leads to vomiting, diarrhoea and external bleeding, it would be the most deadly epidemic since 187 people died in Luebo, in Congo’s Kasai-Occidental province, in 2007.

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