Last updated on: August 11, 2014 2:14 PM
ABUJA/DAKAR—Nigerian officials on Monday said one new Ebola case was diagnosed over the weekend, raising the country’s total to 10 confirmed cases, while Ivory Coast banned air travel from West African nations heavily hit by the virus.Since Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American financial consultant, flew into Lagos from Liberia about three weeks ago, the number of new Ebola cases has slowly grown and the number of people who may have been exposed is growing, officials said.
Officials are now monitoring 177 people for symptoms of the disease.
Over the weekend, a 10th person who had an apparent connection with Sawyer was diagnosed with Ebola, said Onyebuchi Chukwu, Nigerian Minister of Health.
“It was one of the nurses that were primary contacts when he got ill. We then brought her into isolation and we just tested her over the weekend and she tested positive,” Chukwu said.
Of the 10 cases of Ebola in Nigeria, there have been two deaths: Sawyer and a nurse who treated him when he first arrived in Lagos. The other eight cases are people who also had direct contact with Sawyer, Chukwu said.
Ebola has killed 961 people since the outbreak began early this year, with all but two deaths occurring in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Ebola is one of the world’s most deadly diseases, with no known vaccine or cure. The Zaire strain – the one currently spreading through West Africa – can kill up to 90 percent of sufferers, although in the latest outbreak the death toll has been around 55 percent.
Reports that experimental drugs have had success in treating American and European health workers and missionaries who contracted the disease in West Africa have prompted many Nigerians to demand access to the drugs in case it spreads further.
“Nigeria is actually, as of now, reaching out to various laboratories, various governments, including the U.S.A. government to see how these untried … drugs that seem to hold some hope could also be deployed in Nigeria. We’re in touch,” Chukwu said.
The World Health Organization said it expects a vaccine to be developed by 2015, but currently there is no known cure.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan Friday pledged $11.7 million dollars to try to stop the spread in Nigeria and $3.5 million to help other countries fight the disease.
Chukwu said, so far in Nigeria, the disease has not spread out of Lagos, a megacity of 21 million people that is often called the “heartbeat” of the Nigerian economy.
As Nigeria joins the group of West African nations battling an Ebola outbreak, other countries are taking stronger measures to prevent the virus from entering its borders.
In Ivory Coast, the government has banned, until further notice, all passenger flights into the country from Liberia, Guinea or Seirra Leone, the three countries hardest hit by the virus.
Ivory Coast has not reported any cases of Ebola and government spokesman Bruno Kone said they want to keep it that way.
The government said in addition to the ban on flights, authorities at the Abidjan airport will be screening all arriving passengers for fever, using infrared thermometers. Fever can be one of the early symptoms of Ebola.
It can take up to 21 days for symptoms to appear, and once they do, a person is contagious. Other people can catch the disease by coming into contact with the sick person’s bodily fluids.
While Ivory Coast shares land borders with two of the four affected countries – Liberia and Guinea – Health Minister Dr. Raymonde Goudou Coffie said it doesn’t make sense to shut those borders.
Coffie said the borders are very porous, and even if they close the official borders, people know other ways across.
Instead, she said, health officials have worked on educating villages and local leaders to have them refer new arrivals to health authorities.
Land borders closed
Liberia closed its land border with Ivory Coast last week in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus.
Ivory Coast’s defense minister said in “recent days,” border authorities have already repatriated “nearly 100 people” who have tried to cross illegally from Guinea or Liberia.
The Ivory Coast government said it continues to train health workers and will be holding a simulation drill later this week for first responders.
In Malawi, health authorities said the government was taking measures to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus into the country, including airport screenings of international passengers, critics said they weren’t doing enough.
Charles Mwansambo, director of health services in the Ministry of Health, told journalists in Lilongwe that the government was screening international passengers at the airports, and had set up quarantine centers at Kamuzu International Airport in the capital, Lilongwe, and Chileka Airport, in the commercial capital of Blantyre.
However, critics said that medical workers needed urgent training on how to handle an infected person, lacked specialized equipment for containing the virus and could improve public education efforts.
Ministry of Health officials said the airport screenings are currently done to those passengers from West African countries hit hardest by the Ebola virus – Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Mwansambo said, “I want to assure the members of the general public not to panic because Ebola is spread by direct contact with bodily fluids like blood, saliva and urine. And chances of Malawians going to West Africa and getting in touch with these bodily fluids are very minimal.”
Juliana Lunguzi, chairwoman of Malawi’s Parliamentary Committee on Health, criticized his comments, saying there is no logic in telling people not to panic when the situation on the ground shows the government is doing nothing to prevent the outbreak.
Lunguzi, who is also a nurse, said her committee will soon summon government authorities to explain their readiness in terms of medical equipment for combating the possible spread of Ebola into the country.
Jonathan Gama, chairman of the Human Resources for Health coalition of health professionals in Malawi, said Malawi is not in any way ready to contain the virus.
Gama cited inadequate medical equipment, protective wear and orientation for health workers as among the signs of the country’s unpreparedness.
“What we are suggesting is that the health workers should be trained and after training them there should be procurement of resources as Ebola demands, so that when Ebola incidences appear in Malawi we should not be taken by surprise,” Gama said.