Borders Close As Ebola Spreads In West Africa
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The official number of deaths from West Africa's Ebola epidemic is nearing 1,500. The World Health Organization now warns that unknown numbers of people are dying in so-called shadow zones unrecorded by authorities. Many sufferers are being hidden by families who are afraid to take them to health centers for care. And in another development, growing numbers of African countries are closing their borders to travelers from the zones affected by Ebola. NPR's Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us now from Accra, Ghana. Ofeibea, thanks for being with us.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.
SIMON: The WHO says the crisis is worse than they'd estimated. What are you hearing?
QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. And Keiji Fukuda of the WHO is warning that the speed and the spread of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is unprecedented. And he says it has never spread as fast and over such a large area. We're talking about four countries. It started in Guinea and then crossed the border into Sierra Leone and then Liberia with a few cases in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation. And he cites factors such as families hiding sick relative, as you said, Scott, instead of taking them early to Ebola health centers, which, of course, gives them the best chance of survival. And the WHO describes what it calls shadow zones. That medical workers cannot enter because of resistance from communities. And we've seen problems like that in Liberia - the hardest hit of the countries.
SIMON: And what countries are blocking entry to travelers and how is that likely to affect them?
QUIST-ARCTON: Scott, there are so many now that I can hardly mention them all. In faraway South Africa, right at the bottom end of the continent, they have now blocked travelers coming in from Guinea, from Sierra Leone and from Liberia. Only South African nationals who are traveling from those countries will now be allowed in closer to the West African zone. Ivory Coast, which borders both Guinea and Liberia, now blocking entry. Senegal, where I'm based, which borders Guinea, now saying that it will not allow flights, even aid flights - relief flights that are taking in either doctors, nurses, medical staff and relief food aid will not be allowed to take off or land. So the fear factor amongst all the neighbors, and further off field even here in Ghana, that is Ebola free - people are very frightened about this disease that was not known in West Africa until this recent outbreak.
SIMON: Ofeibea, this week, we saw chaos in a shanty town in Liberia's capital Monrovia when officials put barbed wire around a slum to keep people inside. Is this an action that governments are contemplating?
QUIST-ARCTON: It's not only Liberia that has this problem. I have recently left Sierra Leone, and there they have also called in the troops and the police to enforce blockades, sealing off the epicenters - the hot points of the Ebola outbreak.
And, Scott, what is it? It's important to remember as we're talking about a region that is emerging from the most devastating civil wars. So the health services, especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone, are buckling. They are totally, totally overwhelmed by this Ebola outbreak. And Guinea, which was home to so many refugees during the civil wars, although it seems to be doing a little better, their economies are now being affected by this outbreak.
SIMON: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton from Accra, Ghana. Thanks very much for being with us.
QUIST-ARCTON: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.