Cameroon and Gabon have stepped up border security after neighboring Equatorial Guinea confirmed a spreading Marburg virus has killed at least nine people. Despite the controls, people are still traveling across the porous borders, raising fears the virus that causes hemorrhagic fever could spread.
At the government primary school in Kye-Ossi, a town on Cameroon's southern border with Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, children sing that regular hand washing protects people from diseases.
Mireille Evan, head teacher of the school, said more than 15 children from Equatorial Guinea attended classes in Kye-Ossi on Friday. She said those children were separated from their Cameroonian peers and obliged to wash their hands before attending classes.
Evan said Cameroon's public health ministry officials informed her that movement across the border was restricted because of an outbreak of the Marburg virus in Equatorial Guinea. She said it is not her duty to stop children from attending classes.
Cameroon's ministries of basic and secondary education said that several hundred children cross every day from Kie Ntem, an administrative unit in Equatorial Guinea, to study in Kye-Ossi alongside scores of children from Gabon.
Also, several hundred merchants cross borders to Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon each day to conduct business, according to CEMAC, a regional economic bloc.
Authorities in Equatorial Guinea said the Marburg outbreak has killed nine people, but the World Health Organization said the death toll may be as high as 20.
Cameroon's public health ministry said Friday that it had held discussions with health officials in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea on ways to stop or reduce the spread of the disease.
Felix Nguele Ngule, governor of Cameroon's South Region, where Kye-Ossi is located, said surveillance and travel restrictions have been reinforced along the borders.
"What we can assure the population is that the surveillance system has been activated, health staff are mobilized and even the administrative authorities at the border are equally mobilized to monitor the disease," he said. "We want to thank the World Health Organization and the Red Coss that have joined us to see into it that that disease should not cross the border and enter our country."
However, Nguele said the porous borders make it difficult for Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea police to fully control the movement of people.
On February 14, Cameroon's health ministry reported two suspected cases of Marburg virus in the country after a first deadly outbreak in neighboring Equatorial Guinea.
Gabon's state broadcaster, RTG, on Friday reported that after the second Marburg outbreak in Equatorial Guinea in less than two months, the government of Gabon reinforced its contingency plan of zero contamination of Marburg virus disease.
RTG reported Libreville had also dispatched a team of technicians to identify an isolation area for possible suspected cases in border areas.
Cameroon and Gabon said civilians should avoid contact with animals and people who have traveled to Equatorial Guinea and make sure people with fever, fatigue, and blood-stained vomit and diarrhea are isolated.
The WHO said Marburg is transmitted to people from fruit bats, spreads among people through bodily fluids, and has a fatality rate of up to 88%.