The first death from Ebola in this West African nation raised concerns Friday about whether the country would have more success in stemming the deadly virus than its hard-hit neighbors in the region.
The 2-year-old female Ebola patient — who died Friday — traveled from neighboring Guinea, one of the most devastated countries in the crisis. Because Mali borders that nation, health officials had warned it was particularly vulnerable to the virus’ spread.
The first case of Ebola in Mali represents a setback not only for regional efforts to contain the deadly virus but also to a nation that had taken extra precautions.
In addition to a public education campaign, Mali set up anti-Ebola brigades to monitor activity and potential infections, and health officials asked communities to report illegal border crossings. It’s shored up its borders, checking travelers’ temperatures at airports and land crossings. At its border with Guinea, Mali requires travelers to wash their hands.
Including the case in Mali, the virus has affected six countries in West Africa, killing almost 5,000 people. Two of those countries — Senegal, Mali’s other neighbor, and Nigeria — are considered Ebola-free after more than a month with no new infections.
Malian Minister of Health Ousmane Kone called on his fellow citizens to avoid panic in a televised address to the nation Friday afternoon.
“All the people who have been in touch with (the girl) have been isolated, and medical assistance is being reinforced in the region,” he said. “We invite people to inform authorities if they notice any person is having the symptoms of Ebola.”
Malians say panic is difficult to contain now that the virus has entered their nation.
“All we can do is praying God to save us from this illness,” said Dramane Guindo, 24, of Bamako. “Authorities must forbid people living in the affected areas to travel toward the other regions – they must be totally isolated until we are convinced that Ebola is defeated.”
The child was being treated for the virus at a hospital in the Malian town of Kayes, about 375 miles from the capital of Bamako, where residents say they’re concerned their country will see an outbreak similar to those in the worst-hit nations of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
“I don’t understand how they haven’t been able to control people’s movements between Mali and Guinea,” said Rokia Diakite, 29, a secretary in Mali’s capital, Bamako. “The little girl who has been infected is far from here, but anybody can now be infected as people living in her area are just a few hours away from Bamako.”