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Sierra Leone: Hiding Ebola patients is illegal


Sierra Leone’s parliament voted to pass a new amendment to its health act, imposing possible jail time for anyone caught hiding an Ebola patient.

Hiding an Ebola patient is a practice the World Health Organization (WHO) believes has contributed to a major underestimation of the current outbreak.

Those caught face up to two years in prison, the justice minister said. The measure still needs to be approved by the president.

Earlier, Ivory Coast closed its land borders to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus on to its territory.

The WHO says the measures – taken by other countries as well – are counterproductive.

So far 1,427 people have died – more than in any other Ebola outbreak.

Sierra Leone’s parliament voted to pass a new amendment to its health act, imposing possible jail time for anyone caught hiding an Ebola patient

Sierra Leone’s parliament voted to pass a new amendment to its health act, imposing possible jail time for anyone caught hiding an Ebola patient

The number of cases now stands at 2,615. The speed and extent of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa are “unprecedented”, according to the WHO.

Ivory Coast, the largest economy in francophone West Africa, had previously imposed a ban on flights to and from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

“Faced with new outbreak sites and the reactivation of old sites… the Ivorian government decides to close its land borders with sister republics Guinea and Liberia,” it said in a statement on Friday.

Gabon, Senegal, Cameroon and South Africa have taken similar measures.

The WHO says travel bans do not work, and that what is needed is more doctors and officials to help trace those infected with Ebola, as well as more mobile laboratories.

On Friday, the WHO’s Dr. Keiji Fukuda expressed concern over so-called “shadow zones”, areas which cannot be reached and where patients are not being detected.

The organization confirmed 142 new cases of the disease had been reported since 19 August, as well as 77 deaths.

Speaking at a news conference in the Liberian capital Monrovia, Dr. Keiji Fukuda said combating the disease would take “several months of hard work”.

“We haven’t seen an Ebola outbreak covering towns, rural areas so quickly and over such a wide area,” he added.

Ebola has no known cure but some affected people have recovered after being given an experimental drug, ZMapp. However, supplies are now exhausted.

Why Ebola outbreak is underestimated?

  • Many families keep sick people at home, as there is no cure
  • Many health centers have closed because medical staff have fled
  • In Liberia, treatment centers are overwhelmed
  • The existence of “shadow-zones”, areas where there are reports of Ebola but which cannot be accessed because of local resistance or lack of staff

Source: World Health Organization