By Clair MacDougall
MONROVIA (Reuters) - African countries tightened travel curbs on Thursday in an effort to contain the Ebola outbreak, ignoring World Health Organization warnings that such measures could heighten shortages of food and basic supplies in affected areas.
In the West Point slum in Liberia's capital Monrovia, the scene of violent clashes with the army on Wednesday after the area was quarantined to curb the spread of Ebola, hundreds of people jostled their way towards trucks loaded with water and rice.
Police used canes to beat back some locals while aid workers helped others dip their fingers in ink to record their ration.
"I ain't eat since yesterday. I have four young children and none of us eat. I feel bad," said Hawa Saah, a pregnant 23-year-old resident of West Point, speaking in the pidgin English common to this part of West Africa.
The World Food Programme says deliveries of basic supplies to more than 1 million people across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are intended to avoid a food crisis in those West African countries, where more than 1,300 people have died from Ebola in the worst outbreak of the disease in history.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations' health agency, has repeatedly said that it does not recommend travel or trade restrictions for Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria - the countries affected by the epidemic that began in March. Those countries are starting to suffer shortages of fuel, food and basic supplies due to these measures, it warned this week.
Still, Chad's Prime Minister Kalzeubet Payimi Deubet said on Thursday his country would close its border with Nigeria to prevent Ebola entering the country.
"This decision will have an economic impact on the region but it is imperative for public health needs," he said.
Nigeria has reported 15 cases - the lowest number in the four affected countries - and the WHO has expressed "cautious optimism" that the spread can be stopped.
South Africa said on Thursday it was banning all travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from entering its territory, barring its own citizens.
GUINEA APPEALS TO AIRLINES
The precautions follow measures from commercial airlines such as Kenya Airways and Gambia Bird which have suspended flights to affected countries, despite new testing procedures at airports. The United States and several European countries have also advised against non-essential travel to the region.
Guinea's President Alpha Conde met with airlines on Wednesday in an attempt to persuade them to resume normal service to the country. "No Guinean has left the country to export Ebola elsewhere. Even the WHO has recognized that Guinea's measures are sufficient," he said.
The WHO said on Thursday it would convene talks early next month on potential treatments and vaccines to contain the outbreak.
Ebola has struck hardest in countries with health care systems ill-equipped to cope with an epidemic.
A ministry of health report in Liberia, the country where infection is rising fastest, showed 60 new suspected, probable and confirmed cases for just one day on Aug. 19. Two of them were health workers.
In an indication of the strain on local populations, security forces in Monrovia fired live rounds and tear gas on Wednesday as crowds sought to break quarantine restrictions.
A 15-year-old-boy receiving treatment for gun shot wounds later died, the medical director of the hospital treating him said on Thursday.
The WHO said on Thursday that an hemorrhagic illness has killed at least 70 people in Democratic Republic of Congo but denied that the illness was Ebola.
Ireland's health service said it was testing the body of a person, who had died after recently returning from Africa, for the Ebola virus.
(Additional reporting by Madjiasra Nako in N'djamena, Saliou Samb in Conakry, Joe Brock in Johannesburg; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Susan Fenton)