Mali reported its first case of Ebola late Thursday, marking a major setback for West African efforts to contain the deadly virus that now has affected six countries in the region and left nearly 5,000 dead.
Health Minister Ousmane Kone made the announcement on Malian television, saying that the patient was a 2-year-old girl who had come from neighboring Guinea, where the Ebola epidemic surfaced last December.
The child was tested for the virus Wednesday at a hospital in the Malian town of Kayes, about 375 miles from Bamako, the capital.
“The sick child and the people who were in contact with her in Kayes were immediately identified and taken care of,” Kone said.
Ebola is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of sick people, and caregivers and health workers have borne the brunt of the crisis. Protocol calls for those who have been exposed to be isolated and monitored for symptoms for up to 21 days.
Health officials have long viewed Mali as one of the most vulnerable to Ebola’s spread. The country borders both Guinea — one of the hardest-hit countries — and Senegal.
The World Health Organization said Wednesday that Ebola now has killed at least 4,877 people and infected 9,936 across West Africa. Nearly all the cases and deaths, though, have occurred in three countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Like the reported case in Mali, neighboring Senegal also had an imported case from Guinea. Senegal and Nigeria, though, both have now been declared Ebola-free after no new cases had emerged in 42 days.