While the Ebola outbreak continues to ravage West Africa, local and international officials are struggling to implement sufficient security measures in order to contain the virus. Since the outbreak began in December, the contagious virus has so far taken the lives of more than 1,200 people across the region.
The U.N. health agency said Monday that Ebola-affected countries should immediately start screening all passengers leaving international airports, the Associated Press reports. The agency didn't specify which countries should start screening travelers, but it mentioned that the Ebola outbreak involves transmission in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leona and a "small number of people in Nigeria."
Even those countries that have not been affected by the outbreak in West Africa need to strengthen their ability to identify and immediately contain new cases without doing anything that unnecessarily interferes with international travel or trade, the agency said. . However, countries that don't share borders with Ebola-affected countries don't need to impose travel restrictions and active screening of passengers, it said.
In recent days, a number of neighboring countries have taken precautions.Over the weekend, health officials in Kenya said they would not permit people to enter the country who are traveling from countries where the outbreak is occuring. On Tuesday, Cameroon government officials announced they were planning to close its borders with Nigeria.
Officials in western Africa have said they are already closely inspecting departing passengers for symptoms of fever or illness.
Although the risk of the virus being transmitted during air travel is low, the Word Health Organization said anyone with an illness consistent with Ebola fever should not be allowed to travel normally and all passengers should routinely wash their hands and avoid direct contact with body fluids of infected people.
As for existing security measures in Ebola-affected countries, authorities have introduced quarantines and travel restrictions for people who are sick and those who are in contact with them, which sometimes include entire villages and counties. However, officials stressed that such restrictions have sometimes hindered food deliveries.
Earlier this month, Liberia and Sierra Leone sent actual security forces to quarantine affected areas, Voice of America reported August 8. In Liberia, they called it "Operation White Shield."
Meanwhile, all the 17 suspected Ebola patients who had fled a temporary quarantine center had been found, Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown told Reuters on Tuesday.
"We are glad to confirm that all of the 17 individuals have been accounted for and have now been transferred to JFK Ebola specialist treatment center," Brown said.
After the looting that took place at an Ebola quarantine center in West Point, Liberia, last weekend, implementing additional security measures to prevent the spreading of the virus has become more important than ever, since looters were stealing and displacing items contaminated by blood and other bodily fluids of Ebola patients and could therefore easily spread the virus.
The WHO said Tuesday that it is working with the United Nations Food Program (WFP) to deliver food to 1 million people living in Ebola quarantine zones, also in an effort to minimize the potential spreading of the virus.
"Food has been delivered to hospitalized patients and people under quarantine who are not able to leave their homes to purchase food," the WHO said in a statement. "Providing regular food supplies is a potent means of limiting unnecessary movement."