Ebola sparks states of emergency in West Africa
By Gabriel Rubio-Giron, AFP
August 8, 2014, 12:00 am TWN
MADRID -- Overwhelmed West African nations called states of emergency on Thursday as the death toll from a fast-spreading Ebola epidemic neared 1,000 and an elderly Spanish missionary was evacuated for treatment at home.
In Liberia, where the dead lay in the streets, lawmakers gathered to ratify a state of emergency while Sierra Leone sent troops to guard hospitals and clinics handling Ebola cases. Nigeria held out hope it could receive an experimental US-developed drug to halt the spread of the virus.
Since breaking out earlier this year, the epidemic has claimed 932 lives and infected more than 1,700 people across West Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Ebola causes severe fever and, in the worst cases, unstoppable bleeding. It is transmitted through close contact with bodily fluids, and people who live with or care for patients are most at risk.
As African nations struggled with the sheer scale of the epidemic, Spain flew home a 75-year-old Roman Catholic priest, Miguel Pajares, who contracted the disease while helping patients at a hospital in the Liberian capital Monrovia.
The missionary was the first patient in the outbreak to be evacuated to Europe for treatment.
A specially equipped military Airbus A310 brought him to Madrid's Torrejon air base along with a Spanish nun, Juliana Bonoha Bohe, who had worked at the same Liberian hospital but did not test positive for the deadly haemorrhagic fever, the Spanish government said.
Spain said it had not asked the United States for the serum.
"We do not know of the scientific evidence, the scientific basis, the results that this serum can provide," Antonio Alemany, director general of primary health care for the Madrid region, told a news conference.
"Obviously, if the serum is effective then the Spanish government will make contact to be able to use this treatment."
The WHO is holding an emergency session behind closed doors in Geneva to decide whether to declare an international crisis. A decision is expected on Friday.
First discovered in 1976 and named after a river in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ebola has killed around two-thirds of those infected, with two outbreaks registering fatality rates approaching 90 percent. The latest outbreak has a fatality rate of around 55 percent.