Ebola could reach France ‘by the end of October’

There is a strong chance that the deadly Ebola disease, which has killed thousands in West Africa, could reach France by the end of October, a group of scientists have predicted.

Ebola could reach France 'by the end of October'
Scientists say there is a 75 percent chance of Ebola reaching France. Photo: Pascal Guyot/AFP

Scientists in the UK have forecast that there is a 75 percent chance Ebola could reach France by October 24th.

The prediction, which comes days after it was announced a French nurse had been cured of the disease, was made by scientists at the University of Lancaster in northern England.

Their prediction is based on the hypothesis that air traffic to Ebola-hit countries remains normal.

An 80 percent drop in flights to the affected countries like Guinea would see the chances of Ebola coming to France reduce to 25 percent.

"If this thing continues to rage on in West Africa and indeed gets worse, as some people have predicted, then it's only a matter of time before one of these cases ends up on a plane to Europe," said Derek Gatherer from Lancaster University.

The same study led scientists to conclude there was a 50 percent chance of Ebola arriving in Britain and a 40 percent risk of a case being detected in Belgium.

Reuters news agency explained that France is among countries most likely to be hit next because the worst affected countries – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – include French speakers and have busy travel routes back, while Britain's Heathrow airport is one of the world's biggest travel hubs.

At the end of August, Air France announced that it was suspending flights to Ebola hit Sierra Leone, although the airline continues to serve Guinea.

In July France’s Health Ministter Marisol Touraine insisted the chances of Ebola coming to France were slim and that health authorities had everything in place in the event of an outbreak.

On Saturday the same minister revealed that a French nurse who contracted Ebola while volunteering for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Liberia has been cured of the deadly virus.

The nurse, who has not been identified, "is now cured and has left hospital," Touraine said in a statement.

However the heightened fears over the disease were evident on Monday when it emerged that some parents refused to send their children to a school near Paris, where a group of pupils had just returned from Guinea.

Le Parisien newspaper reported that the school had been told pupils did not pose a risk and that their temperatures were being taken every day.

Ebola has killed more than 3,300 people in West Africa in the worst-ever outbreak of the disease.

Touraine authorised the use in France of three experimental drugs for thetreatment of Ebola including the antiviral medicine Avigan, or favipiravir, produced by Japanese firm Toyama Chemical, a subsidiary of FujiFilm Holdings.

The company says the nurse had been given Agivan, which was approved inJapan in March.

There is no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola. Of several prototypetreatments in the pipeline, one dubbed ZMapp has been fast-tracked for use, developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical in California, in conjunction with the US Army.

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Ebola: Hollande to be first leader to visit region

French President Francois Hollande will on Friday begin a visit to Guinea, making him the first Western leader to travel to a country hit hard by the deadly Ebola virus.

Ebola: Hollande to be first leader to visit region
Guinean Red Cross workers wearing protective suits carry the corpse of a victim of Ebola in Macenta. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Guinea has already lost 1,200 people to the disease which has killed over 5,600 in total and infected almost 16,000, mainly in west Africa, according to World Health Organization figures.

The visit, the first by a French president since 1999, is a bid to deliver "a message of solidarity" to Guinea as it battles the worst outbreak of Ebola since the virus was discovered in 1976.

France has pledged 100 million euros ($125 million) as a contribution in the fight against Ebola, focusing its efforts on Guinea.

The money is due to help with financing several care centres in Guinea as well as funding 200 beds, some of which are reserved for health workers caring for the sick.

France has also pledged to set up two training centres for health workers, one in France and one in Guinea. In addition, French biotechnology companies will set up rapid diagnostic tests in Africa.

During the trip, Hollande was due to visit healthcare facilities, participate in a round-table discussion on Ebola as well as hold talks with his Guinean counterpart Alpha Conde.

After the one-day trip to Guinea, Hollande travels to Dakar to take part in a summit of French-speaking leaders that is likely to be dominated by the Ebola crisis as well as the recent unrest in Burkina Faso.

The OIF (International Organisation of French-Speakers) is expected to appoint a successor to former Senegalese leader Abdou Diouf.

However, there is no clear front-runner from the five main candidates, with a French government source telling AFP: "Anything could happen, including a last-minute candidate."

The OIF was founded in 1970 with the ambition to be a "French Commonwealth", a rival to the mainly English-speaking group of countries that are predominantly former British colonies.

But it is battling to find its relevance and retain its funding at a time when many governments find their budgets under pressure. France reduced its funding for the group by 20 percent this year.

French is currently spoken by close to 274 million people, with more than 50 percent of those in Africa — the 5th most spoken language in the world, behind Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish and Arabic or Hindu depending on how it is calculated.

By 2050, the percentage of French speakers based in Africa is due to rise to 85 percent, with 700 million Francophones expected on the continent by then.