West Africa Rallies Ebola Defenses as Guinea Cases Climb

Guinea’s neighbors are taking measures to prevent the Ebola hemorrhagic fever from entering their countries, as cases rise in the West Africa nation.

Five people have died from the highly contagious disease, Guinea’s National Health Security Agency said in an emailed statement Tuesday. Three people tested positive and 10 other suspected cases are awaiting laboratory results, it said.

Authorities are also monitoring 125 people who were in contact with the cases. Most of them are in the southeastern Nzerekore region, where an outbreak has been declared, and the remaining 10 are in the capital, Conakry, it said.

No cases or contacts have been reported beyond Guinea so far, Georges Ki-Zerbo, who heads the World Health Organization’s country office, said by phone from Conakry. The WHO, which expects more cases to be confirmed locally in the coming days, warned neighboring states to “act immediately” to prevent the virus from spreading, Ki-Zerbo said.

Guinea, the world’s largest bauxite exporter, was at the epicenter of the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic, which spread mainly to Liberia and Sierra Leone, infecting more than 45,000 people in West Africa and killing more than 11,000. The latest outbreak couldn’t have come at a worse time as countries grapple with the health and economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The worst-affected countries are still reeling from the last Ebola outbreak, Gyude Moore, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington D.C. and former Liberian cabinet minister, said in an emailed response to questions. The resurgence is “happening at a time when governments have less resources, slowing economies and a global system that is preoccupied with a pandemic,” he said.

Guinea was the first sub-Saharan African country to administer Covid vaccines, but has only inoculated 55 people. An unspecified amount of Ebola vaccines, approved for use in 2019, will arrive Sunday, Guinean Health Minister Remy Lamah said by phone Wednesday, fueling hopes that the new outbreak will be contained.

Ivory Coast, which shares a western border with the affected Guinean region, has taken “heightened” protective measures, it said in a statement Monday. It has also reactivated its Ebola surveillance centers and tightened checks at land, sea and air borders.

“The government insists on personal and collective responsibility in the fight against the two diseases,” Ivorian Health Minister Aka Ouele said in the statement.

Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who led the country during the last epidemic, echoed the sentiment in a tweet Monday, after the incumbent, George Weah, ordered health authorities to increase surveillance.

Authorities in Sierra Leone and Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country that quashed the 2014 outbreak before it could take root, are also tightening checks, according to government statements.

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