LIBERIA shut a major hospital in the capital Monrovia yesterday after a Spanish priest and six other staff contracted Ebola, as the death toll from the worst outbreak of the disease hit 932 in West Africa.
The outbreak of the deadly haemorrhagic fever has overwhelmed rudimentary healthcare systems and prompted the deployment of troops to quarantine the worst-hit areas in the remote border region of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 45 new deaths in the three days to August 4, and its experts began an emergency meeting in Geneva on Wednesday to discuss whether the outbreak constitutes a 'Public Health Emergency of International Concern' and to discuss new measures to contain the outbreak.
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International alarm at the spread of the disease increased when a US citizen died in Nigeria late last month after flying there from Liberia. The health minister said yesterday that a Nigerian nurse who had treated Patrick Sawyer had herself died of Ebola, and five other people were being treated in an isolation ward in the capital, Lagos.
In Saudi Arabia, a man suspected of contracting Ebola during a recent business trip to Sierra Leone also died early yesterday in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia has already suspended pilgrimage visas from West African countries, which could prevent those hoping to visit Mecca for the Haj in early October.
Liberia, where the death toll is rising fastest, is struggling to cope. Many residents are panicking, in some cases casting out the bodies of family members onto the streets to avoid quarantine measures. Ambulance sirens wailed through the otherwise quiet streets of the capital yesterday as residents heeded a government request to stay at home for three days of fasting and prayers.
"Everyone is afraid. You cannot tell who has Ebola or not. Ebola is not like a cut mark that you can see and run (from)," said Sarah Wehyee as she stocked up on food at the local market in Paynesville, an eastern suburb of Monrovia.