, Lagos, Aug 10 – The battle to contain the deadly Ebola outbreak continued on Sunday, after Nigeria appealed for volunteers to help halt the spread of the virus but Guinea went back on a statement it was shutting its land borders with two of its neighbours.
A day after the World Health Organization declared the epidemic an international health emergency, countries as far afield as India were scrambling to impose measures to prevent contagion of the virus which has claimed almost 1,000 lives.
The UN health agency stopped short of calling for global travel restrictions, but some countries on Saturday began imposing bans.
Zambia announced that it was denying entry to citizens from countries hit by the virus, while Chad suspended all flights from Nigeria.
Nigeria along with Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are the hardest hit countries by the epidemic, which the WHO has called the worst in four decades.
Authorities in Lagos, the largest city in Africa’s most populous country, said they needed volunteers because of a shortage of medical personnel.
“I won’t lie about that,” Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris said on television, as the city, home to some 20 million people confirmed nine cases of Ebola, including two deaths.
In Guinea, the government had announced that it was temporarily closing its land borders with neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone but later went back on its statement arguing that it wanted to avoid clandestine border crossings.
“We’re not talking about closing the borders between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but rather of coercive measures to better control cross-border movements”, notably by people who risk carrying the virus, said government spokesman Albert Damantang Camara in a telephone interview with AFP late Saturday.
Sierra Leone meanwhile deployed some 1,500 troops to enforce quarantine measures in two eastern districts where most of the country’s confirmed cases had stemmed from.
Beyond the epicentre of the epidemic, countries as far away as India were also taking action.
Airports in the Asian country of 1.25 billion people went on alert and the government opened an emergency helpline on Saturday.
India, the world’s second most populous country, has nearly 45,000 nationals living in the four Ebola-affected west African nations, and health officials said there was a possibility of some returning to their home country if the outbreak worsens.
India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said in a statement that his country has “put in operation the most advanced surveillance and tracking systems” for the haemorrhagic virus.
“There is no need to panic,” Vardhan said, calling the risk of Ebola cases in India “low”.
– ‘No need to panic’ –
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan warned against spreading false information about Ebola “which can lead to mass hysteria, panic and misdirection, including unverified suggestions about prevention, treatment, cure and spread of the virus.”
Local media reported on Saturday that two people had died in Nigeria’s central Plateau state and about 20 have been hospitalised after they ingested an excessive amount of salt which they believed could prevent Ebola.
Nigeria’s Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu dismissed the salt and water solution as “total rubbish”.
Mauritania meanwhile stepped up health checks at its border with Senegal and Mali, a Mauritanian health ministry official said, but so far no suspicious cases had been detected.
Spread by close contact with an infected person through bodily fluids such as sweat, blood and tissue, Ebola causes fever and, in the worst cases, unstoppable bleeding.
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 be made available to Africans.
The two Americans, who worked for aid agencies in Liberia before returning to the United States for treatment, have shown signs of improvement since being given ZMapp, made by US company Mapp Pharmaceuticals.
There is no proven treatment or cure for Ebola and the use of the experimental drug has sparked an ethical debate.
The WHO, which is planning a special meeting next week to discuss the issue, said on Saturday that clinical trials of a preventative vaccine by British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline may begin next month, and it could be available by 2015.
Separately, Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general of the UN health agency, told AFP it was “realistic” to expect a vaccine to be ready by 2015.
The WHO, Kieny said, was “engaging with quite a number of developers … to see what we can do to help accelerate and facilitate the development”.