Ivory Coast has become the latest African country to close its land borders to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus on to its territory.
Days after banning flights from three countries, it said land borders with Liberia and Guinea were being shut.
Gabon, Senegal, Cameroon and South Africa have taken similar measures. The World Health Organization says such restrictions are counterproductive.
So far 1,427 people have died – more than in any other Ebola outbreak.
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.
The Philippines has ordered 115 troops to return home from peacekeeping operations in Liberia due to the outbreak.
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.
WHO says Ebola outbreak underestimated because:
- Many families keep sick people at home, as there is no cure
- Many health centres have closed because medical staff have fled
- In Liberia, treatment centres 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
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 organisation 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 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.
On Thursday, two US doctors were discharged from hospital after being given the drug, while three Liberian medics are also recovering well.
Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)
- Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
- Fatality rate can reach 90% – but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 55%
- Incubation period is two to 21 days
- There is no vaccine or cure
- Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
- Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus’s natural host