Cases in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak this year have risen to 2,240, including 1,229 deaths, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday, reporting the toll in four countries including Nigeria, which appears to have put the virus outbreak under check.
The WHO said it was working with the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) to ensure food delivery to 1 million people living in Ebola quarantine zones in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“Food has been delivered to hospitalised patients and people under quarantine who are not able to leave their homes to purchase food. Providing regular food supplies is a potent means of limiting unnecessary movement,” the WHO said in a statement.
The WFP is stepping up emergency food deliveries to the quarantined areas, which include severely-affected cities such as Gueckedou in Guinea, Kenema and Kailahun in Sierra Leone and Foya in Liberia.
While Nigeria appears to be containing its smaller outbreak, Liberia and Sierra Leone are struggling to halt the spread of the deadly Ebola virus among their populations.
On Friday, these two West African nations and a medical charity chided the WHO for its slow response, saying more action was needed to save victims threatened by the disease and hunger.
Meanwhile, Liberia has found all 17 suspected Ebola patients who fled a quarantine centre in Monrovia at the weekend and transferred them to another clinic, the information minister said 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 centre,” said Lewis Brown.
He also said that three infected African doctors who had received the experimental Ebola drug Zmapp were showing “remarkable signs of improvement”, quoting an assessment by the doctor overseeing their treatment.
Meanwhile, organisers of one of Nigeria’s most famous cultural festivals on Monday said they were warning outsiders to stay away because of fears about Ebola.
Tens of thousands of visitors from Nigeria and abroad were expected at this year’s annual Osun Osogbo festival in the Osogbo, the capital of southwestern Osun state.
But with 12 confirmed cases of the deadly tropical virus in nearby Lagos, including four deaths, state culture and tourism commissioner Ayedun Sikiru Adetona said authorities had introduced curbs on visitors.
“We do not want to entertain any visitor this year during the festival,” he told AFP ahead of the grand finale to the ancient Yoruba festival on Friday.
The Yoruba, who live predominantly in the southwest, are one of Nigeria’s three main ethnic groups along with the Igbo in the east and the Hausa in the north.
“We want only Osogbo residents to attend,” said the commissioner.
“We will be able to entertain or host visitors from Nigeria and from outside the country in the future after we have successfully battled this deadly virus.”
Adetona said the decision was taken as a precautionary measure “to prevent the introduction of the Ebola virus into the state”.
State information commissioner Sunday Akere added that road transport unions and members of the ethnic Yoruba militia group Oodua Peoples Congress had been told not to attend.
Both make up the bulk of the crowds.
“We have launched radio and television jingles to discourage people from attending the event this year. We have also urged hotels in the state not to admit visitors at this time,” said Akere.
Anyone attending the event, which the Yoruba see as a traditional cleansing of the city and reunion with their ancestors, will have to undergo health checks.
That includes temperature testing, hand-washing with sanitiser and more rigorous policing of crowds to minimise bodily contact.
More than 20,000 people attended last year’s festival and more had been predicted to attend this year.
The Osun river goddess is believed to be a deity that aids fertility for couples who drink water from the river.
The festival takes in the Osun Osogbo grove, a sacred forest and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the outskirts of Osogbo dotted with shrines and sculptures in honour of Yoruba deities.