Gambia reopens borders to travellers from Ebola-hit nations

The Gambia has reopened its land borders to travellers from Ebola-hit nations, the government said on Tuesday, admitting the restrictions were undermining the response to the epidemic.

AFP| Last Updated: Nov 12, 2014, 02:09 AM IST

Banjul: The Gambia has reopened its land borders to travellers from Ebola-hit nations, the government said on Tuesday, admitting the restrictions were undermining the response to the epidemic.

Customs officials had announced in early September they would no longer be allowing in Guineans, Liberians, Nigerians and Sierra Leoneans.

"The border closure is not recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and as such the movement of people into the country should not be restricted," Sanna Sambou, the government`s head of disease control, told AFP.

Sambou, who is in charge of the country`s response to the deadly epidemic, conceded that the closure had not been the best way of combatting the contagion, noting it was deemed "discriminatory" by the WHO. 

He said health officials would continue to screen all travellers entering the country by road for Ebola, which has killed 5,000 west Africans since the start of the year.

The Gambia`s ad-hoc approach to keeping out the virus has attracted criticism from neighbours and its own citizens, who argued that it was exacerbating an already difficult situation.

The border closure applied not just to citizens of the Ebola-hit nations but anyone who had visited them within 21 days, including returning Gambians. 

But Senegal was not included despite dealing with an Ebola case and the restriction was not lifted to Nigeria after the country was declared Ebola-free by the WHO on October 20. 

President Yahya Jammeh ordered airlines to cancel all flights from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone on April 10 -- before reversing the decision a month later.

The Gambia, a country of about 1.8 million, is a finger of territory flanking the Gambia River, with Senegal on either side and a narrow Atlantic coastline.

Jammeh is often pilloried for taking unilateral and seemingly impetuous decisions as well as for rights abuses and the muzzling of the press.