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SA steps up Ebola fight

SA will send a mobile lab to West Africa to bolster treatment in countries affected by the epidemic.

FILE: The World Health Organisation has announced the death toll from the deadly Ebola virus has risen to 932. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - As the Ebola death toll continues to rise, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says South Africa must become a centre of excellence in laboratory diagnosis.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed today that 932 people had died from the hemorrhagic virus.

He's announced South Africa will send a mobile lab to West Africa to bolster treatment in countries affected by the epidemic.

Southern African Development Community (SADC) health ministers have been discussing the outbreak of the deadly virus and have agreed that urgent preventative measures must be put in place to protect the region.

The health ministers in the SADC region have confirmed there has not been an outbreak of Ebola but have warned people to be vigilant.

The ministers say there will be increased cross-border collaboration to ensure the virus is controlled.

Health departments in the region will also strengthen surveillance for early detection of Ebola and stop it from spreading.

A fund will also be established to assist SADC countries if necessary.

There will also be an increase in the training of community health workers on how best to treat patients with Ebola.

Meanwhile, Motsoaledi says South Africa has already selected at least one hospital in each province to treat suspected cases should the need arise.

The minister called on South Africans to educate themselves about the virus.

LIBERIA SHUTS MAJOR HOSPITAL

Liberia shut a major hospital in the capital Monrovia on Wednesday after a Spanish priest and six other staff contracted Ebola.

The outbreak of the deadly haemorrhagic fever has overwhelmed rudimentary healthcare systems and prompted the deployment of troops to quarantine the worst-hit areas in the remote border region of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

WHO reported 45 new deaths in the three days to 4 August, and its experts began an emergency meeting in Geneva on Wednesday to discuss whether the outbreak constitutes a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" and to discuss new measures to contain the outbreak.

International alarm at the spread of the disease increased when a US citizen died in Nigeria late last month after flying there from Liberia.

The health minister said on Wednesday that a Nigerian nurse who had treated the deceased Patrick Sawyer had herself died of Ebola, and five other people were being treated in an isolation ward in Lagos, Africa's largest city.

In Saudi Arabia, a man suspected of contracting Ebola during a recent business trip to Sierra Leone also died early on Wednesday in Jeddah, the Health Ministry said.

Saudi Arabia has already suspended pilgrimage visas from West African countries, which could prevent those hoping to visit Mecca for the Haj in early October.

Liberia, where the death toll is rising fastest, is struggling to cope. Many residents are panicking, in some cases casting out the bodies of family members onto the streets of Monrovia to avoid quarantine measures.

Beneath heavy rain, ambulance sirens wailed through the otherwise quiet streets of Monrovia on Wednesday as residents heeded a government request to stay at home for three days of fasting and prayers.

"Everyone is afraid of Ebola. You cannot tell who has it or not. Ebola is not like a cut mark that you can see and run," said Sarah Wehyee.

St. Joseph's Catholic hospital was shut down after the Cameroonian hospital director died from Ebola, authorities said.

Six staff subsequently tested positive for the disease, including two nuns and 75-year old Spanish priest Miguel Pajares, who is due to be repatriated by a special medical aircraft on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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