Mali’s president has said he remained calm after revelations that a two-year-old girl infected with Ebola travelled on public transport while contagious, stating that her journey and potential contacts had already been traced.
The girl travelled hundreds of kilometres through Mali by bus – including a stop in the capital Bamako – potentially exposing many people to the virus, before she died in the western town of Kayes on Friday.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said that the girl’s grandmother had made a mistake by going to a funeral in Guinea, where more than 900 people have died of Ebola, and bringing her back.
“We are paying dearly for this,” he said. “But I think this will cause more fear than anything else. The case was quickly contained. We will do everything we can to avoid panic,” he told France’s RFI radio station.
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Keita said landlocked Mali would not close its border with Guinea.
“Guinea is Mali’s neighbour. We have a shared border that we did not close and we will not close,” he said.
Land-locked Mali relies on the ports of neighbouring Senegal, Guinea and Ivory Coast as gateways for much of its import needs.
Health experts said the girl had Ebola-like symptoms and travelled for four days before she was eventually diagnosed with the disease on October 23. Ebola victims are contagious as soon as symptoms show.
Local and international Ebola experts are sending teams to Mali to try to contain the outbreak in the sixth West African nation to record Ebola this year.
The World Health Organisation said 43 people who came into contact with the child, including 10 health workers, were being monitored for symptoms and held in isolation.
The UN health agency on Saturday said that the number of confirmed, probable and suspected cases has risen to 10,141. Of those, 4,922 people have died, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Nigeria and Senegal were declared Ebola-free last week after no new cases were reported for 42 days.
WHO has said repeatedly that even those very high figures are likely an underestimate as many people in the hardest hit countries have been unable or too frightened to seek medical care.