West Africans flee Ebola, head to SA

2014-10-12 07:41
A woman washing clothes in Freetown's Kroo town slum. (Carl De Souza, AFP)

A woman washing clothes in Freetown's Kroo town slum. (Carl De Souza, AFP)

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Cape Town - As the world panics over the Ebola outbreak, West Africans are reportedly fleeing their countries in a bid to outrun the virus - some even headed overland for South Africa.

According to the Sunday Independent, this could place South Africa at considerable risk.

Johannesburg-based members of the immigrant communities from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, told the newspaper that there is a considerable number of people attempting to reach SA, most trying to reach it overland - a 5 000km trek.

One man said he alone knew of at least five people who were on their way.

The newspaper reports that it would just take one carrier to change the situation in SA - particularly in a community that is largely housed in the densely populated city centre of Johannesburg - an ideal breeding ground for a communicable virus such as Ebola.

In addition, these often undocumented migrants also enter the country through the porous border at Beitbridge in northern Limpopo - an entry point that has no measures such as temperature radars in place to check visitors who could be carriers.

However, Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba and Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi have stated that although caution needs to be exercised, it cannot be done at the expense of fuelling xenophobia.

Motsoaledi said that he feels SA is too far away for most people to reach by land and if they were carrying the disease, the chances are they would not make it to the border alive, reported the newspaper.

Cases double every few weeks

Meanwhile, as reported by News24 on Saturday, the UN special envoy on Ebola says the number of cases is probably doubling every three to four weeks and the response needs to be 20 times greater than it was at the beginning of October.

David Nabarro warned the UN General Assembly on Friday that without the mass mobilisation of the world to support the affected countries in West Africa, "it will be impossible to get this disease quickly under control, and the world will have to live with the Ebola virus forever".

Nabarro said the UN knows what needs to be done to catch up to and overtake Ebola's rapid advance "and together we're going to do it".

"And our commitment to all of you is to achieve it within a matter of months - a few months," he said.

More than 4 000 people have died of the disease since the start of the outbreak, the worst to date.

SA ready

On Friday, News24 reported that although no cases of Ebola have been reported in South Africa, the country is ready for a possible outbreak.

"It's not that we are just starting now. We are just ramping up efforts to fight the virus that started in December," said Motsoaledi.

A ministerial advisory committee on Ebola had been appointed comprising private healthcare professionals.

Motsoaledi said Cabinet had approved a budget of R32.5m to support Ebola preparedness and response activities.

South Africa started in March and strengthened efforts at major airports, especially the Lanseria and OR Tambo International airports in Johannesburg.

"Private health care practitioners were also put on alert," he said.

They were given a 24-hour number to contact the National Institute of Communicable Diseases if they encountered a patient who possibly had Ebola.

Officials at ports of entry had been trained to deal with the disease.

Motsoaledi said the reason tests were being done on people coming to SA was to "settle the nerves" of the media who caused a frenzy.

"We are testing to settle your nerves. I hope we did settle those nerves," he said.

"It is not acceptable, ladies and gentlemen, to have a media frenzy whenever we have someone with a fever and who bleeds. Bleeding is part and parcel of what the medical personnel see every day."

Motsoaledi said he realised that "unnecessary panic" could be caused if people did not have the right information.

According to the latest toll from the World Health Organisation, the deadly virus has killed 3 439 people in West Africa since the start of the year.

Read more on:    ebola  |  health  |  west africa

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