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West Africa feels knock-on effects of battle against Ebola

© AFP/File / by Rod Mac Johnson | Health workers with 'Doctors Without Borders' put on protective equipment at an Ebola isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, on June 28, 2014Health workers with 'Doctors Without Borders' put on protective equipment at an Ebola isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, on June 28, 2014

West African countries Sunday lamented the knock-on effects of their fight against the Ebola epidemic as restrictions snarled transport, causing food shortages and price hikes.

"We are trying to cope," said Joseph Kelfalah, the mayor of Kenema, an eastern district of Sierra Leone that is under strict quarantine along with nearby Kailahun, complaining of "escalating food prices".

Under the country's "Operation Octopus", some 1,500 soldiers and police have been deployed to enforce the quarantines, turning people away at checkpoints and accompanying health workers searching for people who may have contracted the virus.

"Only essential officials and food items are being allowed in after intensive searches," deputy police chief Karrow Kamara told AFP.

Tribal authorities are imposing huge fines for failure to report cases of Ebola, which has claimed nearly 1,000 lives in west Africa in the worst outbreak in four decades.

Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are the countries hardest hit by the epidemic, which the UN World Health Organization has called an international health emergency.

In Sierra Leone and especially in neighbouring Liberia, the restrictions are curtailing trade and causing food shortages as well as price hikes.

Liberia declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, also deploying soldiers to restrict movement, notably from the worst-affected northern provinces to the capital Monrovia.

Sando Johnson, a senator in the province of Bomi, northwest of Monrovia, said the restrictions were "severe" and warned people would die of starvation if they are not relaxed.

- 'People will die of hunger' -

"My county has been completely quarantined because soldiers don't allow anyone to get out of the area and they don?t allow anyone to go there," he told AFP by telephone.

"A bag of rice that sold for 1,300 LD ($14, 11 euros) is now selling for 1,800 LD. The poor people will die of hunger for God?s sake."

Health workers are also tasked with raising awareness about the disease, which is spread by close contact with an infected person through bodily fluids such as sweat, blood and tissue.

In Sierra Leone, 10 motorcycle taxi drivers have been infected after unknowingly carrying Ebola patients, according to the president of the National Bike Riders Association, David Sesay.

The two-wheeled taxis are a popular and indispensable form of transport in remote areas of west Africa where most roads are unpaved.

Efforts to halt the epidemic have been stymied by ignorance, distrust of Westerners and false rumours.

Nigerian media reported Saturday that two people had died and about 20 have been hospitalised there after ingesting excessive amounts of salt which they believed could prevent Ebola, which causes fever and, in the worst cases, unstoppable bleeding.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan warned against spreading false information about Ebola "which can lead to mass hysteria, panic and misdirection, including unverified suggestions about prevention, treatment, cure and spread of the virus."

Elsewhere, a Romanian man was admitted to a Bucharest hospital specialising in infectious diseases on suspicion of having contracted Ebola in Nigeria.

The 51-year-old patient who returned from Nigeria on July 25 exhibited symptoms of the virus but they could also indicate malaria or typhoid fever, a hospital source said Sunday.

Nigeria has reported 13 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola, whose incubation period ranges from two to 21 days.

Meanwhile the Spanish government said a Spanish priest infected with Ebola will be treated with an experimental drug that has been used on two Americans.

The drug called ZMapp arrived at Madrid's La Paz-Carlos III hospital where the 75-year-old missionary was being treated in isolation, the health ministry said in a statement Saturday.

The Roman Catholic priest, Miguel Pajares, was one of three people who tested positive for Ebola at the Saint Joseph Hospital in the Liberian capital Monrovia where he worked.

The World Health Organization said Saturday that clinical trials of vaccines against Ebola should begin soon and will likely be ready for widespread use by early next year.

by Rod Mac Johnson