TIME Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Declares Health Emergency Amid Ebola Outbreak

"Fellow citizens, this is a national fight, and it behoves all of us to stand together to promote the truth about this deadly disease."

Updated 9:16 a.m. ET July 31

The president of Sierra Leone has declared a public health emergency over a deadly Ebola outbreak that has killed 729 people across West Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

In a statement posted online late Wednesday, President Ernest Bai Koroma said he is implementing for up to 90 days a series of measures aimed at tackling the Ebola virus, including quarantining areas where the disease has emerged and banning most public meetings. Koroma also said he is canceling a planned trip to the United States and instead meeting with regional leaders to address the outbreak.

“Fellow citizens, this is a national fight, and it behoves all of us to stand together to promote the truth about this deadly disease,” Koroma said in the address. “Ebola is real, and we must stop its transmission.

“I hereby proclaim a State of Public Emergency to enable us take a more robust approach to deal with the Ebola outbreak,” he added.

Koroma also called on the country’s parliament to convene and for officials to avoid non-essential foreign trips.

The measures, which came a day after Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor, Sheikh Umar Khan, died from complications caused by the disease, are in line with similar policies announced Wednesday in Liberia, which said it would shutter schools.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Peace Corps said it was pulling all 340 volunteers from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia amid what has become the worst-ever global Ebola outbreak, while two volunteers were isolated after having been exposed to a person who was later killed by the virus.

Sources: WHO, CDC, Mayo Clinic

For more on the Ebola outbreak, see the infographic and video above.

TIME West Africa

Peace Corps Pulls Volunteers Out of West Africa Amid Ebola Scare

GUINEA-HEALTH-EBOLA
Gloves and boots used by medical staff, drying in the sun, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guéckédou, on April 1, 2014 Seyllou—AFP/Getty Images

Because of the spread of the Ebola virus, the organization announced Wednesday

The Peace Corps announced Wednesday that it’s pulling volunteers out of parts of West Africa amid an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. Volunteers in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are being recalled until further notice.

“The Peace Corps has enjoyed long partnerships with the government and people of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea and is committed to continuing volunteers’ work there,” the group’s statement reads. “A determination on when volunteers can return will be made at a later date.”

The organization currently has 102 volunteers in Guinea, 108 in Liberia and 130 in Sierra Leone, it says. On Wednesday, CBS News reported two Peace Corps volunteers in Liberia had been quarantined after possibly being exposed to the deadly virus, though neither currently exhibits symptoms.

As of July 23, 672 people have died from Ebola during the current outbreak, which has spread between Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and other parts of West Africa. Earlier this week, a hospital in Nigeria shuttered its doors after admitting a man who had contracted and later died from the virus.

World leaders are on high alert in light of the outbreak, which is the largest in history. Symptoms of Ebola include fever, diarrhea, vomiting and intense weakness; the fatality rate of this epidemic is about 60%.

TIME Infectious Disease

Infographic: Ebola By the Numbers

West African countries are trying to contain the deadly disease

Updated September 17, 2014

The number of Ebola cases have continued to climb this week in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria. Here’s everything you want to know about the disease.

Illustration by Heather Jones for TIME / Sources: WHO; CDC; Mayo Clinic; Northeastern University; University of Florida; Fred Hutchinson Center

You can also read more here.

 

TIME Nigeria

Nigeria Quarantines Hospital as Ebola Spreads to Most Populous City

The death marks the first recorded case of the highly infectious disease in Africa's most populous country

Updated 4:53 p.m. ET Tuesday, July 29

Nigeria has evacuated and quarantined a hospital in the city of Lagos after a patient died from Ebola, the first reported case to reach one of Africa’s most densely-populated countries.

Reuters reports that the patient, Patrick Sawyer, a consultant for Liberia’s finance ministry, collapsed shortly after his flight landed at Lagos airport on July 20. He died while in treatment at First Consultants Hospital. Health officials said that doctors and nurses who came into contact with Sawyer have been isolated and closely monitored.

“The private hospital was demobilized (evacuated) and the primary source of infection eliminated,” said Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris, Reuters reports.

In Sierra Leone, a prominent doctor, Sheik Umar Khan, who was instrumental in the fight to contain the virus died on Tuesday, roughly one week after the government disclosed that he had contracted the virus, the BBC reports. The news comes after a Liberian doctor died of the virus over the weekend and two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, continued to struggle under intensive care in Monrovia, Liberia.

The number of Ebola cases continues to climb in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the virus has infected 1,201 people and claimed 672 lives since it was first reported in West Africa in February, according to the World Health Organization. But the emergence of the disease in Lagos, a city of 21 million people, has officials fearing a greater challenge to containment.

Nigerian officials said that they were monitoring 59 people who came into contact with Sawyer, including doctors, nurses and people at the airport. However, the airline on which he arrived in Lagos had not yet released the names of passengers.

Meanwhile, Obama administration officials said that U.S. President Obama was being updated regularly about the outbreak. Calling it a “very worrying epidemic,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice said the U.S. would continue to assist local and international efforts to combat the spread of the virus.

“We are very much present and active in trying to help the countries of the region and the international authorities like the World Health Organization address and contain this threat.”

West African carrier Asky Airlines, meanwhile, announced Tuesday it is suspending some flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone because of Ebola fears.

 

TIME Infectious Disease

Here’s What You Need to Know Now About the Ebola Crisis

After a passenger brought Ebola to Africa’s largest city, health officials are on alert for signs of the infection among passengers. Here's the latest

The Ebola outbreak has already led to more than 670 deaths in West Africa, but a man who became ill on a flight from Liberia to Lagos, Africa’s largest city, has raised alarms for public-health officials after he later died of the virus.

Liberia has closed most of its borders, and airports in Nigeria are now screening passengers arriving from foreign countries for Ebola’s symptoms, which include fever, headache, joint pain, lack of appetite, difficult breathing and sore throat. In its advanced stages, Ebola leads to diarrhea, vomiting and internal bleeding. While the airport screenings are meant to ease travelers’ minds, the reality is that the Ebola virus can’t be detected soon after infection — the first signs of the virus are red eyes and a rash, which could be caused by many different things. Plus, outgoing flyers are not being tested and its unclear at this point if over countries will follow suit. People have recovered from infection with the virus, but the mortality rate ranges from 50% to 90%.

(MORE: Here’s What It Will Take to Contain the Worst Ebola Outbreak in History)

Who can spread the virus?

The virus takes anywhere from two to 21 days to incubate and start causing symptoms, but Dr. Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said during a telebriefing Monday that infected patients only spread the disease when they have symptoms. Because the virus is transmitted through direct contact with fluids like saliva or blood from infected patients, airport officials are essentially looking for passengers who might have severe vomiting, diarrhea or other bodily secretions that could reach other travelers.

Are Nigeria’s airport screenings enough?

Nigeria is screening incoming passengers for such symptoms and may also take passengers’ temperature. Nigerian officials have also created holding rooms to isolate patients or passengers who are suspected of being infected, so they can be triaged to further medical care.

But because some of the early symptoms of Ebola mirror those of other ailments, including malaria, CDC officials say the strongest way to contain spread of infectious diseases is by instituting travel restrictions at the source. That’s why Liberia has closed all its borders except for three land crossings where travelers can be screened and treatment services provided if needed.

Dr. Marty Cetrone, director of the division of global migration and quarantine at the CDC, said during the briefing that officials can also try to contain the outbreak by using questionnaires asking travelers at these checkpoints about their recent travel history as well as their potential exposure to the virus through friends or other close contacts.

How did this outbreak get so bad?

Health officials aren’t sure why this particular outbreak has led to a historic number of deaths, but note that social and cultural practices may be driving spread of the virus. In many of the communities where the virus remains active, there is still denial about the disease, and stigma associated with getting ill, which discourages patients from getting early hydration and nutrition that can help them to overcome the infection. While there is no treatment for the virus, these measures can lower the death rate for some. Funeral practices that involve touching the deceased may also help the virus move from host to host.

How at-risk are Americans?

Monroe says the risk of Ebola for U.S. citizens who haven’t traveled to West Africa remains low. There are no restrictions on travelers entering the U.S., but the CDC has issued a Level 2 travel advisory for people traveling to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, recommending that they avoid contact with blood or other bodily fluids that might contain the virus, and use the proper protective equipment to avoid infection. The advisory applies mostly to health care or humanitarian aid workers, who so far make up the largest group of people affected by Ebola. “[Transmission] involves not only touching the contaminated body fluid but introducing it through some mucous membrane or cut on the skin,” said Monroe.

For anyone who has recently traveled to those countries or might have been exposed to someone who was ill in that area, health officials are advising a 21-day fever watch to ensure that no active infection is occurring.

What if an infected person flies into the U.S.?

The CDC is also preparing for the remote possibility that a passenger from the region who is ill boards a plane and lands in the U.S. and starts infecting residents. The agency is informing its network of physicians in state and local public-health facilities about how to look for signs of Ebola. “We are sending Health Alert Network notices about the importance of taking steps to prevent spread of the virus,” said Monroe. That includes procedures on asking patients about their recent travel history, as well as using the proper personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and gowns if they suspect an Ebola infection.

They’re confident that these measures will be effective, since infection with a virus related to Ebola, Marburg, was successfully contained in the Netherlands with isolation and barrier procedures. No health care workers contracted the virus from that patient. Health officials hope that with the proper preparation and education, that record can apply to Ebola as well, if it makes it beyond the heavily affected countries in West Africa.

TIME infectious diseases

Liberia Closes Borders to Curb Ebola Outbreak

Outbreak is already the largest on record

The Liberian government closed off most of the country’s border crossings Sunday in an effort to curb an Ebola outbreak that has already killed over 670 people across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and become the largest outbreak of the virus on record.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the airport will remain open, but that all travelers coming in and out will be tested for the virus, Reuters reports. “All borders of Liberia will be closed with the exception of major entry points,” she said. “At these entry points, preventive and testing centers will be established, and stringent preventive measures to be announced will be scrupulously adhered to.”

Ebola kills around 90% of those who contract it, although the current outbreak has only killed around 60%. Numerous medical personnel have succumbed to the most recent outbreak, including Dr. Samuel Brisbane, one of Liberia’s most high-profile doctors, who died Saturday.

Two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol, have contracted the virus and are currently in stable condition, NBC reports. Both worked for North Carolina-based aid group Samaritan’s Purse, and spokeswoman Melissa Strickland said that they are both “alert.”

Brantly and Writebol had followed all CDC and WHO guidelines and worn full protective equipment when treating Ebola patients, including gloves, goggles, face protection, and full body coverings, Strickland said.

Since Ebola is highly contagious, Liberia has also restricted public gatherings such as marches and demonstrations until the outbreak is brought under control. “No doubt, the Ebola virus is a national health problem,” President Sirleaf said in a statement. “And as we have also begun to see, it attacks our way of life, with serious economic and social consequences.”

TIME Terrorism

Boko Haram Kidnaps Wife of Cameroon’s Deputy Prime Minister

Third attack since 22 militants were sentenced to prison in Cameroon Friday

Over 200 Nigerian Boko Haram militants attacked a town in northern Cameroon Sunday, kidnapping the wife of Cameroon’s deputy Prime Minister and killing at least 3 people, Cameroon officials told Reuters.

Deputy Prime Minister Amadou Ali had been at home with his family in Kolofata Sunday to celebrate the Ramadan fast when his wife and her maid were kidnapped in what government officials call a “savage attack.”

The militants also kidnapped the mayor of Kolofata (who is a religious leader) in a separate attack on the town, as well as five of his family members.

Government spokesman Issa Tchiroma confirmed to Reuters that Boko Haram militants had attacked the Ali’s home in Kolofata. “They unfortunately took away his wife,” he said.

The attack on Kolofata was the third Boko Haram attack since 22 Boko Haram militants were sentenced to prison Friday in Maroua, a major city in the northern part of the country. At least four soldiers were killed in the other two attacks over the weekend.

Boko Haram opposes Western education and seeks to create an Islamist separatist state in northern Nigeria. They kidnapped over 200 girls from a boarding school in April and threatened to “sell them on the market.” The girls have not yet been returned.

[Reuters]

TIME infectious diseases

Ebola Virus Suspected in Lagos, Nigeria

Samples have been sent to the WHO for testing

The deadly Ebola virus that has killed hundreds across West Africa may have hit Africa’s most populous city, according to a Thursday statement from the country’s ministry of health.

Officials in Lagos, Nigeria are testing a Liberian man after he collapsed at the city’s airport displaying symptoms of the disease. Government representatives also expressed concern because the man worked and lived in Liberia where the disease is prevalent. Blood samples have been sent to the World Health Organization to be tested.

The virus has spread rapidly since an outbreak earlier this year, and health organizations have said they are struggling to control its spread.

In a statement, Nigerian health officials asked that residents “remain calm and take appropriate measures for the prevention and control of the disease.” These prevention measures include avoiding contact with people or animals suspected of having the disease.

While the outbreak has killed hundreds already in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, it could be especially damaging if it hit Lagos, an urban center with a population of 21 million.

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Displaces 15,000 Nigerians After Civilian Massacre

The Islamic insurgency slaughtered dozens of civilians and has taken control of a strategic area in Nigeria

The insurgent Islamist group Boko Haram raided an army base in northeast Nigeria and massacred around 50 civilians in nearby villages over the weekend, filling a power vacuum in the region after the evacuation of Nigerian troops.

Recent attacks on villages in the region have killed 50 civilians and driven out 15,000 people, Reuters reports, further evidence that international efforts to tackle the Islamist group after its kidnapping of 200 girls earlier this year has failed to curb its violent activities.

The group now can move freely in a region with a major highway linking the northern and southern districts of Borno, bordering Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Boko Haram is pursing a scorched earth policy, security sources tell Reuters, driving out authorities who do not support their effort to create an Islamic state.

The five-year old insurgent group achieved global notoriety in April when its fighters kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school in the northeastern village of Chibok in April. So far, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been unable to retrieve them.

[Reuters]

TIME Nigeria

All Malala Wants for Her Birthday Is Safe Return for Boko Haram Girls

Calls kidnapped girls her "sisters" during visit to Nigeria

Girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai met Sunday with parents of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the militant group Boko Haram and pledged again to fight for their safe release.

“I can see those girls as my sisters… and I’m going to speak up for them until they are released,” she told a crowd of parents, Reuters reports. “I can feel… the circumstances under which you are suffering. It’s quite difficult for a parent to know that their daughter is in great danger.

“My birthday wish this year is… bring back our girls now, and alive,” she added.

More than 200 schoolgirls have been missing since they were abducted by Islamist terror group Boko Haram on April 14 as they were preparing to take exams near Chibok, in the northeast region of the country. In the months since the abduction, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been unable to secure their release amid widespread international focus, even as Boko Haram leaders threatened to “sell them in the market.”

Malala, who became renowned as an international advocate for girls’ education after she survived a Taliban assassination attempt, is scheduled to meet with the Nigerian leader on Monday. She turned 17 on Saturday.

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