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article imageEbola: BA suspends flights to Sierra Leone in wake of virus

By Robert Myles     Aug 7, 2014 in World
London - On Wednesday British Airways (BA) announced it was suspending flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone until end August in the wake of the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus that has struck a number of countries in West Africa.
BA usually operates four flights per week from London’s Heathrow Airport to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, with an onward connection to Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.
Meantime, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was convening an ethical review to consider as yet untested experimental treatments to counter the Ebola virus.
The latest outbreak of Ebola, up till Wednesday, had claimed 932 lives in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria. Between Aug. 2 and Aug. 4, according to the WHO, a further 45 patients died from the disease and 108 new cases were reported.
So far, Ebola has hit hardest in Guinea with 363 deaths in the latest outbreak. But total cases confirmed, probable or suspected, at 691, is significantly higher in Sierra Leone than other affected countries. To date, Nigeria has been relatively unscathed by the Ebola virus with nine confirmed, probable or suspected cases and just one death.
In a statement issued to travel companies, BA said it acted, “due to the deteriorating public health situation in both countries.”
BA went on to say, “The safety of our customers, crew and ground teams is always our top priority and we will keep the routes under constant review in the coming weeks.”
Customers already booked will get a refund or can rearrange a flight for a later date.
The BA move follows that of Emirates earlier this month. Emirates was the first major airline to cancel flights to Ebola-stricken countries. Pan-African airline ASKY and smaller regional carrier Arik Air have also restricted flights in the region, reports CNN.
In Nigeria, the first confirmed death caused by Ebola set alarm bells ringing in Africa’s most populous country. The victim was nurse who had helped treat Patrick Sawyer, a 40-year-old Liberian-American civil servant who’d last month visited Nigeria from Liberia.
The WHO recorded five new suspect cases in Nigeria, Aug.2-4. All the suspected cases are believed to be other health workers who came into contact with Sawyer, reports The Guardian. Sawyer passed away within days of his arrival in Nigeria.
The worry in Nigeria is that, with Ebola virus having an incubation period of up to 21 days, pinpointing all those who may have been in contact with Sawyer could be difficult.
Sawyer had collapsed at Lagos’ principal airport shortly after arriving in the country.
Although it has been possible to document direct and indirect contacts Sawyer may have had after being taken to hospital, doubts remain concerning the number of individuals who may have had contact with the victim before he was moved to a medical facility.
Nigerian state health commissioner, Jide Idris, explained that Ebola was diagnosed only after Sawyer was moved to hospital and that Sawyer had had direct or indirect contact with at least 70 others, including airline passengers, airport officials and health workers. All contacts traced have been placed under precautionary surveillance with seven quarantined, according to Idris.
Health authorities in Nigeria have concerns that Ebola may spread amongst the general population, with the former Nigerian capital, Lagos, a teeming city of some 20 millions. As a consequence, a number of precautions have been put in place including information on Ebola being broadcast via radio and leafleting, health workers being issued with protective clothing and the setting up of four new isolation wards.
The Ebola virus spreads through contact with body fluids such as blood and vomit. There is no known cure or vaccine for Ebola although victims have a better chance of survival if the disease is diagnosed early and they receive proper medical care. The death rate during the current outbreak, somewhat lower than previous outbreaks, is put at between 50 and 60 percent of those infected.
Experimental treatments
Next week, WHO will summon experts on medical ethics to explore the possible use of experimental treatments to combat the current West African Ebola outbreak. Although no cures or vaccines for Ebola exist, a number of experimental options are in development.
The WHO's ethics summit is likely to consider whether medicine that has never been tested and shown to be safe in people should be used in the current Ebola outbreak. Considerations also arise as to who should receive such treatment, if approved, given the limited supplies of medicine available.
“We are in an unusual situation in this outbreak. We have a disease with a high fatality rate without any proven treatment or vaccine,” said Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s Assistant Director-General. "We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is.”
According to WHO, two health workers recently received treatment for Ebola using experimental medicine. But before any new medicine comes into general use, normally, a series of trials would be conducted on humans beforehand. Further studies would then be conducted to assess how effective were any drugs and how best to use them while adhering to the general principle applicable to any new medicine that it should do no harm.
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