Ebola Spreads to Mali as WHO Races to Contain Outbreak

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CHART: Ebola Historical Totals
Source: WHO (Data as of Oct. 17, 2014)

Ebola spread to the sixth West African country as a 2-year-old girl succumbed to the disease in Mali, opening a new front in the effort to prevent the outbreak of the deadly viral infection from spreading further.

The toddler, who traveled from Kissidougou, Guinea, with her family to Mali and who tested positive for Ebola after being hospitalized died, Abdoulaye Cisse, a spokesman for the World Health Organization in the country, said by phone today. She was admitted to a hospital in Kayes yesterday, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s office said earlier in a statement.

The virus has infected almost 10,000 people this year, mostly in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, killing about 4,900. Senegal and Nigeria, which also had cases, are now free of the virus.

Disease trackers now must trace everyone the girl came in contact with and monitor them for signs of infection. Mali was one of four countries the World Health Organization said this month was at highest risk of Ebola among a group of African nations the agency said needed to be prepared for cases. A WHO-led team has been in Mali this week helping to identify gaps in the country’s defenses.

“The big issue is getting the response up in those countries so that you can prevent a travel-related case from becoming an outbreak,” Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general for health security, said in a phone interview today. “We’re working with Mali to try to contain it in the same way that it was contained in Senegal and in Nigeria.”

WHO’s List

Mali, a nation of about 16.5 million people to the northeast of Guinea, is Africa’s third-largest gold producer. The town of Kayes is almost 600 kilometers (373 miles) northwest of the capital, Bamako.

Ivory Coast, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau also are at the top of the list of countries that need to be prepared for Ebola cases, the WHO said Oct. 10. Others at risk are Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Mauritania, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Togo.

The WHO said yesterday it was fairly confident there were no cases of Ebola in countries that neighbor Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Mali borders Guinea, Ivory Coast and Ghana, which produce about 60 percent of the world’s cocoa.

Mali prepared 10 facilities where Ebola patients can be isolated, and trained health staff how to deal with suspected cases, Markatie Daou, a health ministry spokesman, said in an interview on Oct. 10. The ministry had received 350 million CFA francs ($672,000) to prepare for Ebola, which wasn’t enough, he said.

Donor Pledges

Donors including the U.S., U.K. and UN have pledged more than $2 billion to help contain the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola. Delays in getting equipment and medical staff to West Africa may lead to as many as 10,000 new cases a week by December, the WHO said this month.

In Mali, the government has identified the girl’s family members and started monitoring them, according to the statement. “The Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene has taken all necessary steps to prevent the spread of the virus,” according to the statement. The government “will reassure the public about the measures taken and calls for calm and serenity.”

Mali’s government has struggled to maintain control of the country since a coup in 2012 by soldiers seeking better resources to fight separatists in the north. The ethnic Tuareg rebels aligned themselves with militants linked to al-Qaeda in the north briefly, before being shoved aside.

French Soldiers

French President Francois Hollande sent soldiers in to the former colony in 2013 to repel the Islamic militants. The government is in talks with the separatists, who want more autonomy in exchange for a cease fire. The French soldiers and UN peacekeepers remain in the north to prevent al-Qaeda-linked militants from regaining ground. The Kayes region wasn’t affected by the fighting.

Mali doesn’t have enough trained health workers, USAID said in a report last year. There’s one physician per 8,646 people, and health staff is unevenly distributed across the country, with most qualified workers concentrated in Bamako and the regional capitals, according to the report.

Cases of the disease have also been reported in the U.S. and Spain. The disease was first identified in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976.

Download: Lindsey Piegza Says Ebola Threat to African Economies (Audio)

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