Ebola has hit Liberia in its highest places, FrontPageAfrica has reported. The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, operating directly under the presidency, has been hit by the deadly Ebola virus.
An administrative assistant to Augustine Ngafuan, the country’s foreign minister, died showing symptoms of the deadly virus on Monday. Her husband, who is also a staff in the office of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has been quarantined, FrontPageAfrica reported.
The online news portal reported that Ngafuan’s aide, whose office was only two floors below the floor now being used as the President’s office, had contracted the disease from her sister who died from the disease.
A faith healer who had attempted to heal the aide’s sister had also died from the disease. But the chance that anyone else in the office would have contracted the virus from late aide and her husband (whose name were withheld to avoid panic) is greatly reduced because the couple had been given a 21-day break after the aide’s sisters death.
Meanwhile, Ngafuan is currently in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia attending an emergency meeting of the African Union’s Executive Council on the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak. The minister has not made any official statement about the incident.
The AU members are recommending the urgent lifting of all travel bans imposed on countries affected by the Ebola outbreak in Africa.
The ministry became the office of the presidency in 2006 after fire gutted the fourth floor during celebrations marking the 159th Independence Day celebrations of the nation.
South African forensic scientists brought in to probe the cause of the fire said it was an electrical fault.
Following the fire outbreak at the Executive Mansion, the Government of Liberia announced a closure of the Mansion, and President Johnson-Sirleaf relocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where the president has for the past eight years been performing official state functions.
The burnt mansion was constructed in 1964 under the regime of the late Liberian President William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman by 2,000 workers, including about a fifth of Monrovia’s labour force, and 150 foreign technicians.
The eight-storey Executive Mansion building, which costs US$20 million, has an atomic-bomb shelter, an underground swimming pool, a private chapel, a trophy room, a cinema, an emergency power plant, water supply and sewage system, among others.
Liberia is worst hit among the nations affected by the current Ebola epidemic with at least 1,200 recorded deaths. Over the past three weeks, the country has experienced a 68 percent growth in infections.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the increase will continue to accelerate in coming weeks.
Fears have continued to grow in the country over the sheer number of infected people. Quarantine centres have also been complaining that there not enough beds to accommodate the sick. At least 160 health workers have been infected with the virus and 79 have died, in a nation that counted a paltry single doctor per 100,000 inhabitants at its onset.
Karin Landgren, head of United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) said: “The enormous task of addressing Ebola has revealed persistent and profound institutional weaknesses, including in the security sector.
“As the demands pile on, the police face monumental challenges in planning and implementing large scale operations.”
But in a bid to stem the plague, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $50 million on Wednesday to support the emergency efforts to contain the epidemic in West Africa.
The U.S.-based philanthropic foundation said it would release funds immediately to U.N. agencies and international organisations to help them buy supplies and scale up the emergency response in affected countries.
“We are working urgently with our partners to identify the most effective ways to help them save lives now and stop transmission of this deadly disease,” Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the Foundation’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.
Latest data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show the Ebola outbreak, which began in March, has infected almost 4,300 people so far, killing more than half of them.
The deadly viral infection is raging in three countries – Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone – and has also spread into neighbouring Nigeria and Senegal.
On Tuesday, WHO said Ebola death toll jumped by almost 200 in a single day to at least 2,296 and is already likely to be higher than that. WHO has previously warned that the epidemic is growing “exponentially” and there could be up to 20,000 cases in West Africa before it is brought to a halt.
Chris Elias, the Gates Foundation’s head of global development, said in a telephone interview the group would be assessing over coming days where funds could be best spent.
Some would go to the most acute and immediate needs, he said, and some would be put towards more longer-term research into treatments and ways of preventing future outbreaks.
“The spread of this disease has really happened because of the very weak health systems in these very poor countries,” he said. “We need to be thinking how we can build up those health services, how we train healthcare workers, and how we make sure they have the equipment they need to do their jobs.”
The Gates money comes after the British government and the Wellcome Trust medical charity last month pledged 6.5 million pounds ($10.8 mln) to speed up research on Ebola, a disease for which there is currently no licensed treatment or vaccine.
The WHO has backed the use of untested drugs, as long as conditions on consent are met, and is hoping for improved supplies of experimental medicines by the end of the year.
Britain’s minister for international development, Justine Greening, welcomed the Gates support, saying the “serious health, social and economic risks posed by one of the worst outbreaks of the disease require the entire international community to do more to assist”.
The Gates Foundation – set up by the billionaire founder of Microsoft Bill Gates to fight disease and poverty in poor countries – has already committed more than $10 million to fight the Ebola outbreak, including $5 million to the WHO for emergency operations and research and development assessments and $5 million to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to support efforts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.