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Motsoaledi: SA ready to combat Ebola

Aaron Motsoaledi says 11 hospitals have been designated to deal with any Ebola case in South Africa.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that South Africa has banned travel for non-citizens to Ebola hit countries. Picture: Vumani Mkhize/EWN

CAPE TOWN - Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says all 11 South African hospitals designated to deal with any cases of Ebola are equipped and ready.

Motsoaledi says they have been provided with guidelines on how to diagnose, isolate and treat patients as well as handle fatalities.

The minister was responding to questions from Members of Parliament in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

He says protective clothing for healthcare workers has also been supplied.

"If there is any Ebola case in Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, 100 health workers will be ready to jump into to action in a full complement of personal protective clothing."

Motsoaledi says South Africa's also helping to fight the epidemic in West Africa.

"We are actually physically present in West African states of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. We have dispersed a team of highly trained specialists who have been there for the past two weeks."

Motosoaledi dismissed a challenge from the Democratic Alliance's Wilmot James, who told MPs three of the designated hospitals were not ready because they lacked decontamination rooms.

The minister says if Ebola comes to South Africa it is more likely to enter through OR Tambo International Airport than by way of the country's porous borders.

He says a team of dedicated experts meet weekly to advice the government on the Ebola threat.

"They say problems are likely to occur at OR Tambo International Airport and that is why Charlotte Maxeke Hospital and Steve Biko Hospital have been given hundreds of sets of protective clothing."

He said it's highly unlikely anyone infected with the disease in West Africa could make their way to South Africa over land.

DEATH TOLL INCREASES

The United Nations said $600 million in supplies would be needed to fight West Africa's Ebola outbreak, as the death toll from the worst ever epidemic of the virus topped 1,900 and Guinea warned it had penetrated a new part of the country.

The pace of the infection has accelerated, and there were close to 400 deaths in the past week, officials said on Wednesday.

It was first detected deep in the forests of southeastern Guinea in March.

The hemorrhagic fever has spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, and Senegal, and has killed more people than all outbreaks since Ebola was first uncovered in 1976.

There are no approved Ebola vaccines or treatments.

An experimental Ebola vaccine that Canada said it would give to the World Health Organisation for use in Africa was as of Wednesday still in the lab that developed it as officials are puzzled over how to transport it.

"We are now working with the WHO to address complex regulatory, logistical and ethical issues so that the vaccine can be safely and ethically deployed as rapidly as possible," Health Canada spokesman Sean Upton said in a statement.

"For example, the logistics surrounding the safe delivery of the vaccine are complicated." Upton said one of the challenges was keeping the vaccine cool enough to remain potent.

Human safety trials are due to begin this week on a vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline Plc. and later this year on one from NewLink Genetics Corp.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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