Mali scrambled Wednesday to prevent a major Ebola epidemic after the
deaths of an Islamic cleric and a nurse, as the official death toll in
the worst epidemic in history passed 5,000.The case has dashed optimism that Mali was free of the highly-infectious
pathogen and caused alarm in the capital Bamako, where the imam was
washed by mourners at a mosque after his death.
It came as the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the
outbreak — almost entirely confined to west Africa — had passed a
gruesome landmark, with 5,160 deaths from around 14,000 cases since
Ebola emerged in Guinea in December.
In Mali, the latest country to see Ebola infections, Bamako’s Pasteur
clinic has been quarantined, with around 30 people trapped inside,
including medical staff, patients and 15 African soldiers from the
United Nations mission in Mali.
Teams of investigators are tracing health workers, scouring the capital
and the imam’s home district in northeastern Guinea for scores of people
who could have been exposed.
The deaths have raised fears of widespread contamination as they were
unrelated to Mali’s only other confirmed fatality, a two-year-old girl
who had also arrived from Guinea in October.
A doctor at the clinic is thought to have contracted the virus and is under observation outside the capital, the clinic said.
A friend who visited the imam has also died of probable Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
Mali’s health ministry called for calm on Wednesday, as it led a huge cross-border operation to stem the contagion.
The WHO said the 70-year-old cleric, named as Goika Sekou from a village
on Guinea’s porous border with Mali, fell sick and was transferred via
several treatment centres to the Pasteur clinic.
– ‘Many mourners at risk’ –
He had travelled to Bamako by car with four family members — all of whom have since got sick or died at home in Guinea.
Multiple lab tests were performed, the WHO said, but crucially not for Ebola, and he died of kidney failure on October 27.
The imam’s body was transported to a mosque in Bamako for a ritual
washing ceremony before being returned to Guinea for burial in his home
Traditional African funeral rites are considered one of the main causes
of Ebola spreading, as it is transmitted through bodily fluids and those
who have recently died are particularly infectious.
“Although these events are still under investigation, WHO staff assume
that many mourners attended the ceremonies,” the agency said.
Although the imam cannot now be tested, his first wife died of an
undiagnosed disease last week while his second wife and brother are sick
at an Ebola treatment centre in southern Guinea where his son tested
positive for the virus on Tuesday.
All were with him on the car journey to Bamako, the WHO said, adding that his daughter died in Guinea on Monday.
The WHO said 28 health care workers who had contact with the imam at the
Pasteur clinic had been identified and were under observation.
A second team of investigators is scouring Bamako, including the mosque,
for possible infections while WHO staff in Guinea trace the man’s
The nurse who died treating Sekou, identified by family as 25-year-old
Saliou Diarra, was the first Malian resident to be confirmed as an Ebola
– Sierra Leone cases ‘skyrocketing’ –
Mali’s first case, two-year-old Fanta Conte, died after travelling to
the western town of Kayes by bus and taxi with her grandmother, sister
and uncle, making frequent stops on a trip of more than 1,200 kilometres
They also spent two hours in Bamako, visiting relatives in a house of 25 people.
Mali had announced this week that it was planning the release of more
than 100 people who may have had contact with the girl, and voiced
confidence that it had beaten Ebola.
The virus is estimated to have killed around 70 percent of its victims,
often shutting down their organs and causing unstoppable bleeding.
Ebola emerged in Guinea in December, spreading to neighbouring Liberia and then Sierra Leone, infecting at least 13,000 people.
Cases are “still skyrocketing” in western Sierra Leone, according to the
WHO, although Liberia says it has seen a drop in new cases from a daily
peak of more than 500 in September to around 50.
Britain’s foreign secretary Philip Hammond announced plans Wednesday for
hundreds of Ebola treatment beds in Sierra Leone within weeks,
admitting the global response had been too slow as he visited the former