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What are Mideast governments doing to combat Ebola?

Initial tests on the body of a Saudi man who was suspected to have died of the Ebola virus turned out to be negative.

By Paul Crompton / Al Arabiya / 18 Aug 2014

As the worst outbreak on record of the deadly Ebola virus takes its toll in West Africa, killing more than 1,100 people this year, Middle Eastern governments and health authorities are introducing measures to prevent the disease spreading to their shores.

Nigeria, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have been hardest hit by the latest epidemic of Ebola, which the Geneva-based World Health Organization has claimed is the worst outbreak of its kind in four decades.

While there have been no confirmed cases in the Arab world, the virus is suspected to have reached as far as Hong Kong, as a Nigerian man is under quarantine at a hospital.

Initial tests on the body of a Saudi man who was suspected to have died of the Ebola virus turned out to be negative.

In North Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia announced numerous preventative measures this month, including the mobilization of medical staff in border areas, and training medical staff.

However, embattled Libyan authorities unable to control the border areas of the country due to an upsurge in violence announced earlier in August that current events and the “open borders” in the south mean it is possible people infected with the disease may have entered the country.

Last week, Lebanon's agriculture ministry banned the import of live animals - including chimpanzees, gorillas, bats, monkeys and porcupines - from Ebola-hit African countries, as part of the government's measures to combat the risk of the fatal virus,The Daily Star reported.

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries last week pledged to take a unified stance to combat Ebola, and agreed to share medications and vaccines among member states, as well as jointly purchase medical supplies through a centralized agency.

The plan involves training health officials and making use of regional facilities to diagnose and treat such diseases, Saudi-based daily Arab News reported on Thursday.

“Delegates will make every effort to keep the disease out of the region,” Arab News quoted Tawfiq Khoja, director-general of the GCC Health Ministers’ Executive Office, as saying.

GCC countries are especially prone to being affected by the virus due to their geographic location and trading importance, Khoja had said earlier.

Not recommended

The outbreak has led to some restrictions on flights and trade in the region, with the United Arab Emirates among the countries that have halted air travel to the affected African countries.

And although Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have already stopped issuing entry visas to those travelling from affected countries, the “WHO does not recommend travel bans to or from the countries affected,” a WHO spokeswoman told Al Arabiya News.

Saudi authorities have so far taken no chances, announcing earlier this month that it will not issue visas for umrah and hajj (religious pilgrimages undertaken by many Muslims) pilgrims from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia due to concerns about the spread of Ebola, in line with the WHO’s recommendation.

The WHO, the U.N.’s health agency, has declared that the Ebola outbreak constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern.”

By declaring Ebola as a public health emergency of global concern, the WHO intends to ramp up “political pressure” and “raise the alert internationally” in order for countries to prepare for any possible cases, the spokeswoman said.

In an attempt to address commonly held perceptions that the virus is at risk at spreading from air travel, the global health body on Thursday tweeted that “usually when someone is sick[with Ebola] they are so unwell that they can't travel.”

The risk of infection for travelers is “very low since person to person transmission results only from direct contact with the body fluids or secretions of an infected person. People are infectious only when they show symptoms,” the spokeswoman said.



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