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First WHO worker infected by Ebola, Briton evacuated

The UN's World Health Organisation on Sunday (Aug 24) announced a first Ebola infection among the health experts it has dispatched to battle the raging epidemic in West Africa that has killed at least 1,427 people with few signs of abating.

FREETOWN: The UN's World Health Organisation on Sunday (Aug 24) announced a first Ebola infection among the health experts it has dispatched to battle the raging epidemic in West Africa that has killed at least 1,427 people with few signs of abating.

Also on Sunday, the first Briton to be infected with Ebola was being flown out of Sierra Leone on Sunday, headed to an isolation ward in a London hospital.

The WHO gave no details about the age, sex or nationality of its infected health worker but said the person had been deployed to Sierra Leone.

A WHO spokesman told AFP the person was an epidemiologist. The patient was now "receiving the best care possible" but the "option of medical evacuation" was still being considered, the WHO statement said.

The infected Briton in Sierra Leone, a health ministry spokesman said, Yahya Tunis, was a volunteer nurse and a "valuable member" of a crew who had worked with Ebola victims.

He said the Briton, who had been living in Sierra Leone, had been working in Kenema in the country's hard-hit east, in an area now under quarantine.

Sierra Leone, where 392 Ebola deaths have been recorded, is one of four West African states struggling to control the spread of the aggressively contagious virus, which can spread through bodily fluids including saliva and blood.

Liberia has been particularly hard hit since the outbreak began in March, with 624 deaths, compared with 406 for Guinea and five for Nigeria, according to a WHO count on Friday.

UN PLEDGES 'STRONG ROLE'

The death toll continues to mount despite military-enforced quarantines of stricken districts, while neighbouring states have slammed shut their border crossings in hopes to keeping illness out.

On Saturday the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's special representative for Liberia, Karin Landgren, pledged the world body would take a "strong role" in coordinating the response to the emergency. "Ebola in Liberia must be addressed to ensure a stable economy, future and society," she said in Monrovia.

British physician David Nabarro, the UN's new pointman on Ebola, also stressed during an ongoing tour of the affected region that the United Nations would "ensure resources are given to sectors that need it most". But the WHO has also warned that it could take "several months" to bring the epidemic under control.

DEATH TOLL RISES

The WHO said on Friday that the death toll had risen to 1,427 out of more than 2,600 cases - with 77 succumbing to the disease between August 18 and 20.

But it also estimates its count of the infected and dead is likely far too low, due in part to community resistance to outside medical staff and a lack of access to infected areas.

Nigeria, which has seen progress in battling the outbreak, announced two more people had tested positive for Ebola.

In the Liberian capital Monrovia, workers said crematoriums were struggling to deal with dozens of bodies arriving every day, and earlier this week, violence erupted in an Ebola quarantine zone in the capital after soldiers opened fire on protesting crowds.


No cure or vaccine is currently available for the deadly virus, meaning patients must be isolated.

ECONOMIC TOLL

The epidemic, which first erupted in the forests in the south of Guinea, is also taking its toll on the economies of some of the world's poorest countries.

"It is a total catastrophe. We are losing lots of money," Alhaji Bamogo, who sells clothes in the market in the Liberian capital Monrovia, told AFP recently. "All those who are coming to the market come only to buy food or products for the disinfection of Ebola," he said.

Across the resource-rich countries, companies are suspending operations due to fears of the haemorrhagic fever. Steel giant ArcelorMittal this month said the contractors at its iron ore works in Liberia had suspended operations and were pulling out staff.

Several international airlines have halted their flights to west Africa in a move that Moody's ratings agency warns "will exact an economic toll" on the region.

In Nigeria, Africa's top oil producer, experts warn that the impact for the regional economy could be dire if the disease takes hold. And in quarantined areas in Sierra Leone and Liberia, cash crops like cocoa and coffee are being left to rot as farmers fear to stray from home.

On Sunday West African state Benin postponed a meeting of African health ministers scheduled for early September.

Meanwhile the Ivory Coast has closed its borders with Guinea and Liberia, just days after Senegal did the same with Guinea. And South Africa has banned entry for non-citizens arriving from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

The extreme measures taken against Ebola-afflicted countries, especially by neighbours, have caused friction in the region. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, the chairman of Sierra Leone's presidential task force on Ebola, said he was "surprised" by the lack of solidarity among African countries.

It "gives the impression that we are pariah states," Kargbo said on state television. "Once we get over the epidemic, we will begin to look at ourselves to know who our friends are."