, CONAKRY, Aug 2 – West Africa’s Ebola-hit nations have agreed to impose a cross-border isolation zone at the epicentre of the world’s worst-ever outbreak, amid warnings that the deadly epidemic is spiralling out of control.
The announcement came at an emergency summit in the Guinean capital on Friday to discuss the outbreak, which has killed more than 700 people, with the World Health Organization warning Ebola could cause “catastrophic” loss of life and severe economic disruption if it continued to spread.
“We have agreed to take important and extraordinary actions at the inter-country level to focus on cross-border regions that have more than 70 percent of the epidemic,” said Hadja Saran Darab, the secretary-general of the Mano River Union bloc grouping the nations.
“These areas will be isolated by police and military. The people in these areas being isolated will be provided with material support,” she said at the meeting in Conakry.
Opening the summit, WHO chief Margaret Chan told leaders that the response of the three countries to the epidemic had been “woefully inadequate”, revealing that the outbreak was “moving faster than our efforts to control it”.
“If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socio-economic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries,” Chan said.
She described the outbreak as “by far the largest ever in the nearly four-decade history of this disease”.
“It is taking place in areas with fluid population movements over porous borders, and it has demonstrated its ability to spread via air travel, contrary to what has been seen in past outbreaks,” she told the summit.
“Cases are occurring in rural areas which are difficult to access, but also in densely populated capital cities. This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response.”
– $100 million action plan –
The leaders of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea used the summit to launch a $100 million (75 million euro) action plan that will see several hundred more medical staff deployed to battle the epidemic.
The three countries will also bolster efforts to prevent and detect suspected cases, urge better border surveillance, and reinforce the WHO’s sub-regional outbreak coordination centre in Guinea.
Darab did not outline the exact area to be part of the isolation zone, but the epicentre of the outbreak has a diameter of almost 300 kilometres (185 miles), spreading from Kenema in eastern Sierra Leone to Macenta in southern Guinea, and taking in most of Liberia’s extreme northern forests.
“The healthcare services in these zones will be strengthened for treatment, testing and contact tracing to be carried out effectively,” she said.