Libyan health ministry issues Ebola risk warning

Although no cases of Ebola have been reported in libya, health ministry warns against risk in south of North African country

The Libyan health ministry today warned that the country’s “open borders” in the south could have led to persons infected with Ebola to enter the country undetected.

However in its statement, the ministry said that so far no cases of Ebola have been reported in Libya.

Earlier, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be an international public health emergency that requires an extraordinary response to stop its spread.

Given the loose controls at the borders in southern Libya, it is difficult to tell if there are any cases of Ebola in the country, and the health ministry said that current events and the "open borders" in the south mean it is possible people infected with the disease may have entered the country.

Over the past three weeks, Libya has ssen an upsurge in violence and hundreds have been killed as warring militias are seeking to take control of the oil-rich nation.

But to date no cases have been reported, with the current outbreak mostly confined to the western African nations of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. So far more than 930 people have died from Ebola in West Africa this year.

"The ministry calls on all citizens, especially those in the south, to contact the ministry or a health centre if they suspect an Ebola case," the statement said.

The disease is not contagious by airborne channels, and despite the ease of movement between Libya’s southern borders and neighbouring sub-Saharan countries, an outbreak in the North African country currently looks unlikely.

Libya
Libya

Following decades of European colonialism, African nations’ borders cut through tribal, ethnic, and linguistic lines and after Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011 state control of Libya’s borders with Algeria, Niger and Chad disintegrated.

Despite various attempts by the Libyan authorities to patrol its southern borders which cover over 2,700 km, human trafficking and weapon smuggling are rife across the porous borders.

International emergency

WHO officials today said a coordinated international response was essential to stop and reverse the spread of the virus. The announcement came after experts convened a two-day emergency meeting in Switzerland.

The UN health agency declared similar emergencies for the swine flu pandemic in 2009 and for polio in May.

The WHO chief, Margaret Chan, said the announcement on Friday is "a clear call for international solidarity" but acknowledged that many countries would probably not have any Ebola cases.

"Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own,'' Chan said at a news conference in Geneva.

"I urge the international community to provide this support on the most urgent basis possible," she added.

The agency had convened an expert committee this week to assess the severity of the ongoing epidemic - the largest and longest in history.

The current outbreak of Ebola began in Guinea in March and has since spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The WHO said the situation is likely to get worse in the coming months.

There is no licenced treatment or vaccine for Ebola and the death rate has been about 50%.

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