Bamako: A two-year-old girl who was Mali`s first case of Ebola has died, officials said on Friday, shortly after the World Health Organization warned she had potentially exposed many people to the disease by travelling across the country while ill.
The two-year-old had travelled with her grandmother hundreds of kilometres by bus from Guinea via Mali`s capital to the western town of Kayes, where she was diagnosed on Thursday. Health workers were scrambling to trace hundreds of potential contacts in a bid to prevent Ebola taking hold in Mali.
The worst Ebola outbreak on record has killed 4,900 people, mainly in nearby Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. A global response to the epidemic is being rolled out but experts warn that tens of thousands more people are at risk.
The health official, who asked not to be named, said the girl died in a treatment centre in Kayes at around 1600 GMT.
Two government officials, who also requested anonymity, confirmed the information but there was no government statement. Oumar Sylla, a Kayes resident, said local radio stations were reporting her death.
Mali is the sixth West African nation to record a case of Ebola. Senegal and Nigeria have succesfully contained outbreaks and has been declared free of the disease. Spain and the United States are treating a handful of cases.
Diplomatic sources have expressed concern about the preparedness of Mali, one of the world`s poorest countries, to contain an outbreak. Home to a large U.N. peacekeeping mission, the mostly Muslim country is still battling northern Islamist militants after a brief French-led war last year.
WHO said that an investigation into the girl`s case revealed that she had already started showing symptoms - and was therefore contagious - before she travelled with her grandmother by public transport.
"WHO is treating the situation in Mali as an emergency," the U.N. health agency said in a statement.
"The child’s symptomatic state during the bus journey is especially concerning, as it presented multiple opportunities for exposures – including high-risk exposures - involving many people," it added.
WHO said that 43 contacts had been identified and isolated but a second Malian health official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters that authorities estimated that at least 300 people had been in contact with the infected child.
Hours before Mali confirmed the case on Thursday, WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda said the agency had "reasonable confidence" that there was not widespread transmission of the Ebola virus into neighbouring countries.