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EBOLA

Ebola: France ‘on alert’ after recent scares

France stepped up its measures to prevent an outbreak of Ebola on Friday announcing it had appointed a team of experts to focus its response to the Ebola virus, and would boost efforts to help west African nations battling the disease.

Ebola: France 'on alert' after recent scares
A nurse suspected of having Ebola arrives at hospital in Paris this week. It turned out to be false alarm.Photo: Le Parisien

Despite several scares over suspect cases as the virus spreads further afield, Prime Minister Manuel Valls assured that no Ebola cases had been confirmed in France.

"The health system is on alert to rapidly detect and take care of any person affected by Ebola," he said in a statement.

France will on Saturday start carrying out health checks on travellers arriving from Guinea, one of the worst-hit nations alongside Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The country joins Britain, the United States and Canada in screening travellers for the disease.

The deadly virus has infected nurses in the United States and Spain who treated ill patients arriving from west Africa, where the bulk of the 4,500 deaths from Ebola have taken place.

"Given the scale of the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, France has decided to strengthen its international and national response," Valls said.

He named Jean-Francois Delfraissy, director of the national AIDS research agency, as coordinator of all international and national response operations, who will work with three other experts.

"Internationally France will do everything to help African countries confronted with Ebola, in particular Guinea," said Valls.

He said France will increase assistance to Guinea where it is already helping build treatment centres, and has also deployed technical experts.

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HOLLANDE

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.

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