, BAMAKO, November 18- Mali said Monday it had placed nearly 600 people who may have been exposed to Ebola under surveillance as the country battles to contain the spread of the deadly tropical virus.
The west African nation has been scrambling to prevent a minor outbreak turning into a major crisis after the deaths of a Guinean imam and the Malian nurse who treated him in the capital Bamako.
A friend who had visited the imam in the Pasteur clinic also died of probable Ebola, while a doctor at the clinic who contracted the disease was undergoing treatment. A two year old child died of Ebola in an unconnected case in the western town of Kayes in October.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, on a visit to the imam’s home village of Kouremale on the Mali-Guinea border, urged locals to take all precautions in “the war” against Ebola.
“I ask you to redouble your vigilance. We will not close the border, but don’t let anyone enter Mali without having washed their hands or taken their temperature,” the president told frontier medical workers.
By way of example, the president then soaped his own hands and had his temperature taken.
Health Minister Ousmane Kone, who accompanied the president on the trip, said “577 people were under daily observation”, up from Sunday’s figure of 442 people who were being monitored for Ebola symptoms.
A government official said Friday that two people who died after exposure to the imam’s body were “highly suspected” of having contracted the virus.
They are not confirmed cases, however, and have not been counted among the official statistics.
The World Health Organization announced on Friday that the outbreak — almost entirely confined to west Africa — had left 5,177 people dead from around 14,500 cases since Ebola emerged in Guinea in December.
Samba Sow, of the Ebola emergency operations centre, said Sunday that the western town of Kayes had not reported any new cases in the last three weeks and was now considered Ebola-free.
The virus is estimated to have killed up to 70 percent of its victims across west Africa, often shutting down their organs and causing unstoppable bleeding.