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October 24, 2014
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Sierra Leone army blockades Ebola areas, Liberia declares emergency

Medical staff prepare food for patients at a treatment centre in Kailahun, Sierra Leone.

The army blockaded rural areas hit by the deadly Ebola virus in Sierra Leone today, a senior officer said, after neighbouring Liberia declared a state of emergency to tackle the worst outbreak of the disease, which has killed 932 people.

Worried Liberians queued at banks and stocked up on food in markets in the ramshackle capital Monrovia while others took buses to unaffected parts of the West African country after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced the powers lasting for 90 days late on Wednesday.

The state of emergency allows Liberia's government to curtail civil rights and to deploy troops and police to impose quarantines on badly affected communities to try to contain an epidemic that has struck four west African nations.

"Everyone is afraid this morning," civil servant Cephus Togba said. "Big and small they are all panicking. Everyone is stocking up the little they have."

With troops setting up checkpoints outside Monrovia on the way to some of the worst-hit towns, Johnson Sirleaf justified the measures by saying the state of emergency was necessary for "the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people".

In Geneva, World Health Organization (WHO) experts were due to hold a second day of meetings to agree on emergency measures to tackle the highly contagious virus and whether to declare an international public health emergency.

After a trial drug based on the tobacco plant was administered to two US charity workers infected in Liberia, Ebola specialists have urged the WHO to offer Africans the chance to take such experimental drugs. The UN agency has asked medical ethics experts to explore this option next week.

Many in Liberia - a nation founded by the descendants of freed American slaves, whose capital is named after former US President James Monroe - look to the United States in time of crisis, as the country did during a brutal 1989-2003 civil war that killed nearly a quarter of a million people.

"We need help from America. We need help," said Nancy Poure, a small trader in the suburb of Johnsonville. "This is the beginning of hardship. Ninety days of fear and suffering."

Among the most deadly diseases, Ebola kills up to 90 percent of those infected, causing internal and external bleeding, diarrhoea and vomiting in its final stages. Discovered in Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976, near the Ebola river, it is believed to have been carried to the west of the continent by fruit bats, which are eaten as a delicacy in the region.

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Tags:  Ebola  Sierra Leone  Liberia  epidemic  outbreak  WHO  World  





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