Ahmed Jallanzo / EPA

Liberia ramps up Ebola prevention efforts as international concern grows

Public health NGO says current outbreak ‘absolutely out of control’

Liberia will close schools and consider quarantining entire communities, it said on Wednesday, announcing the toughest measures yet to halt the worst Ebola outbreak on record.

Security forces in Liberia were ordered to enforce the steps, part of an action plan that includes placing all nonessential government workers on 30-day compulsory leave.

Ebola has been blamed for 672 deaths in Liberia, neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures, as underfunded health care systems have struggled to cope with the epidemic. Liberia accounted for just under one-fifth of those deaths.

"This is a major public health emergency. It's fierce, deadly and many of our countrymen are dying, and we need to act to stop the spread," Lewis Brown, Liberia's information minister, told Reuters.

"We need the support of the international community now more than ever. We desperately need all the help we can get."

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in a speech posted on the presidency's website that the government was considering quarantining several communities based on the recommendation of the Health Ministry.

Referring to the orders issued to the security forces to impose the plan, Brown, the information minister, added, "We are hoping there will be a level of understanding and that there will not be a need for exceptional force."

The first cases of this outbreak were confirmed in Guinea's remote southeast in March. It then spread to the capital, Conakry, and into neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Concern deepened last week when a Liberian-American died from Ebola in Nigeria, having traveled from Liberia. Authorities in Nigeria, as well as Ghana and Togo, where he passed through en route to Lagos, are trying to trace passengers who were on the same plane he was on.

In Nigeria, health authorities announced they were trying to trace more than 30,000 people who could be at risk of contracting Ebola after the man's death.

Sunday Omilabu, a professor at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, said: "We've been making contacts. As I'm talking, our teams are in the facility, where they've trained the staff, and then they [are] now asking questions about those that were closely in contact with the patient.”

"We're actually looking at contacting over 30,000 people in this very scenario. Because any- and everybody that has contacted this person is going to be treated as a suspect," said Yewande Adeshina, a public health adviser.

Nigeria's government has implemented a state of "red alert" at all border crossings and initiated a media campaign to inform the public.

What’s more, some airlines in the region have cut routes to countries affected by Ebola despite the WHO saying it does not recommend travel restrictions as a step to control outbreaks.

Highlighting increased international concern about the crisis, an official for the Obama administration said the president was monitoring the situation, while the U.S. Peace Corps said it was withdrawing 340 volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

A U.S. official subsequently confirmed that two of the volunteers had been isolated and were under observation after they had previously come into contact with an individual who later died of Ebola.

Meanwhile, the global public health NGO Doctors Without Borders warned that the Ebola crisis in West Africa is “unprecedented” and “absolutely out of control” as countries struggle to take effective actions against the outbreak.

Bart Janssens, the group's director of operations, warned in an interview with Belgium's La Libre Belgique newspaper that there was no overarching vision of how to tackle the outbreak.

"This epidemic ... can only get worse, because it is still spreading, above all in Liberia and Sierra Leone, in some very important hot spots," Janssens said.

"If the situation does not improve fairly quickly, there is a real risk of new countries being affected … It is difficult to predict, because we have never known such an epidemic."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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