BAMAKO/MONROVIA (Reuters) - Mali announced tougher health checks at border crossings after registering its second Ebola outbreak, while Liberia on Thursday signalled progress in neutralising the virus by saying it would not renew a state of emergency.
The world’s worst ever epidemic of the haemorrhagic fever has infected more than 14,000 people and killed at least 5,160 since it erupted in March in West Africa, a region dogged by poverty and poor health care. It has ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and spurred a global watch for its spread.
In Mali, which shares an 800-km (500-mile) border with Guinea, a nurse died of Ebola on Tuesday, and on Thursday a doctor at the same clinic was also revealed to be infected. More than 90 people had already been quarantined in the capital Bamako after the nurse’s death, just as a group exposed to Mali’s first case completed their required 21 days of isolation.
“The president of the republic has asked the prime minister to look urgently at the entire system put in place to fight Ebola and to strengthen health controls at the different frontier posts,” a government statement said.
But officials said there were no plans to close the border, even though the nurse had been infected by a man who arrived from Guinea.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta urged the World Health Organization (WHO) and health services in Mali and neighbouring states to set up a permanent information exchange to improve awareness about public health and hygiene.
In a sign that some progress was being made against the disease, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said she would not seek to extend a state of emergency imposed in August over Ebola, which has hit her country harder than any other.
The emergency, which allowed authorities to curb movement in the areas worst affected, officially expired earlier this month. Sirleaf said a night curfew would remain in effect, however.
The WHO says there are indications that the incidence of new Ebola cases is declining in Guinea and Liberia.
On Wednesday, it said the total Ebola death toll in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had reached 5,147 out of 14,068 cases as of Nov. 9, with 13 more deaths and 30 cases recorded in Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Spain and the United States.
Some 421 new infections were reported in Sierra Leone in the week to Nov. 9, especially in the west and north, and the virus is still spreading intensely in Freetown, the capital, as well as in Guinea’s southwest near the Liberian border, the WHO said.
The 25-year-old nurse’s death in Mali, after treating a man from Guinea whose symptoms were not initially recognised, forced a lockdown in the clinic where she had worked.
The Pasteur Clinic, one of Bamako’s leading medical facilities and the default health centre for expatriates, was being guarded by U.N. peacekeepers with armoured personnel carriers and by Malian security forces, witnesses said.
Mali’s first case of Ebola was a 2-year-old girl who had been infected in Guinea and died last month.
Just as the people who had been in contact with her finished their 21 days of quarantine, Mali must now trace those who had contact with the nurse and the three others infected with her.
Last September, the International Monetary Fund provided $130 million (82.74 million pounds) to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in September to help them cope with the economic impact of Ebola. On Thursday, it said it would discuss debt relief for the three countries with Group of 20 leaders meeting in Australia this week.
In Washington, the Obama administration tried to assure a sceptical Senate that its efforts to combat Ebola were bearing fruit and urged lawmakers to approve $6.2 billion in new emergency funds for that purpose.
Tens of thousands of nurses across the United States staged protest rallies and strikes on Wednesday over what they say is insufficient protection for health workers dealing with patients possibly stricken with Ebola.
The global medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres said on Thursday that clinical trials of three potential Ebola treatments would begin in December at MSF medical centres in Guinea and Liberia.
Additional reporting by Alphonso Toweh in Monrovia, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, David Morgan and Kia Johnson in Washington, Curtis Skinner in San Francisco, Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Kevin Liffey