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Health worker deaths surge in West Africa as Ebola spreads

AFP-JIJI

Nigeria on Sunday confirmed a fresh case of Ebola in a doctor whose husband died from the virus, adding to a growing list of health care workers in West Africa hit by the epidemic.

The woman’s husband was also a doctor and died in the city of Port Harcourt on Aug. 22 after treating a patient who had contact with a Liberian man who brought the virus to Nigeria in late July.

She was in stable condition at an isolation unit in the financial capital, Lagos, said Sampson Parker, the health commissioner of Rivers State, of which Port Harcourt is the capital.

Nigeria’s medics have paid a heavy price in the outbreak: of the six people who have died from the disease in Africa’s most populous nation, two have been doctors and two others nurses.

Another doctor and a pharmacist were put into isolation at a unit outside Port Harcourt, Parker said.

“They have not been confirmed (as having Ebola) and we are awaiting the result of investigation,” he told a news conference.

The World Health Organization has voiced concern about the number of healt hcare workers hit by the Ebola outbreak: more than 120 health workers have died and over 240 others infected so far.

The disease had killed a total of 1,552 people and infected 3,062 as of Aug. 26, according to WHO figures.

In Guinea, where 430 people have died in all, nurses told AFP they lacked basic medical equipment to treat patients and had even bought items such as gloves and protective clothing themselves.

In Senegal, doctors were treating a young Guinean man who became the country’s first confirmed case of the disease. He was said to be in a “satisfactory” condition in a hospital on Saturday.

The case lends credence to fears that the haemmorhagic fever, for which there is currently no vaccine, is spreading rapidly.

At current infection rates, it could take six to nine months and at least $490 million to bring under control, by which time over 20,000 people could be affected, the WHO has warned.

In Liberia, hardest hit by the outbreak with 694 deaths, the government has denied permission for any crew to disembark from ships docking at any of the country’s four ports.

Medical screening of passengers was also causing long delays at Monrovia’s international airport, but a 21-day quarantine thrown around the city’s West Point neighborhood was lifted on Saturday.

Air travel to West Africa has been badly hit by the disease. Eight of the 11 international airlines serving Monrovia have suspended flights, including British Airways and Air France.

The WHO and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS have both called for travel bans to be lifted, saying medical screening should identify at-risk passengers instead.

The Ebola crisis has cast doubt over a number of international soccer fixtures involving the worst-hit countries, with qualifying beginning next week for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

Sierra Leone, where 422 people have died so far, named a 20-man squad consisting entirely of foreign-based players for its matches against Cote d’Ivoire and the DR Congo.

But Cote d’Ivoire’s government has refused to allow the game to be played in Abidjan and not announced an alternative venue. The Ivorians risk forfeiting the match if they fail to show up.

Ebola-linked restrictions have led to sporadic violence in recent weeks. In Guinea, 55 people were injured in N’Zerekore after two days of protests this week over a government-imposed curfew.

The WHO has credited public health campaigns, especially in Guinea and Nigeria, for limiting the transmission of Ebola.

Guinea-Bissau, currently Ebola-free, on Saturday announced a national hygiene drive, with the cleaning and disinfection of public places on the last Saturday of every month.

Nigeria, however, has seen its hopes of containing the virus dashed with the outbreak in its oil-producing hub, 435 km (270 miles) east of Lagos.

The city is home to a number of global oil and gas majors. Anglo-Dutch giant Shell and France’s Total said last week that the arrival of Ebola has not affected operations.

Chevron said it, too, was closely monitoring developments and implementing “precautionary measures” for its workforce.