LAGOS: The death toll of the Ebola epidemic neared 1,000 on Wednesday as fears rose that the disease is now taking hold in Africa’s most populous nation of Nigeria after a second death among seven confirmed cases in Lagos.
The spread of the disease comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) met in an emergency session in Geneva to decide whether to declare an international crisis.
The latest official toll across west Africa hit 932 deaths since the start of the year, it said on Wednesday, with 1,711 confirmed cases, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The death of a nurse in Lagos, a mega city of more than 20 million, came as 45 deaths were confirmed across west Africa between Saturday and Monday, with aid agencies, including Doctors Without Borders, saying the terrifying tropical disease is out of control.
In Liberia’s capital Monrovia, where the dead have been left unburied on the streets or abandoned in their homes, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appealed for divine intervention and ordered three days of fasting and prayer.
And in Sierra Leone, which has the most confirmed infections, 800 troops including 50 military nurses were sent to guard hospitals and clinics treating Ebola patients, an army spokesman said.
“We are making sure that unauthorized people do not disturb the work of health personnel,” Colonel Michael Samura said.
At the start of the crisis, some clinics were vandalized and health workers came under attack by youths who accused them of helping to spread the disease.
The soldiers’ colleagues coming to the end of a tour with the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia were ordered Wednesday to remain in the war-torn country rather than risk returning home because of Ebola.
The closed-door WHO meeting was not expected to make a decision until Friday. But the session itself underscored the severity of the threat posed by the disease, which causes severe fever and unstoppable bleeding.