UK

Ebola 'Hysteria' Forces School To Cancel Charity Visit By Sierre Leone Mother And Child

08/10/2014 09:58 BST | Updated 09/10/2014 16:59 BST

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A school has cancelled the visit of a charity worker and her son because of fears by parents that their children could be infected with Ebola.

Nine-year-old Kofi Mason-Sesay from Sierra Leone was due to study at St Simon's Catholic Primary School in Hazel Grove, Stockport, this month on a placement while his mother, Miriam was on fundraising duties for the charity EducAid which runs a network of free schools for vulnerable youngsters in the West African country.

Last month, the school tried to reassure parents that the forthcoming visit posed no risk to the pupils of contracting the disease.

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The school took advice from health chiefs in the borough and passed on Public Health England's guidance that anyone travelling from affected countries who were free of symptoms was not infectious.

Yesterday, headteacher Elizabeth Inman wrote to parents to say that "with a very heavy heart" the school and its governors had taken "the pragmatic decision" to stop the visit despite Ms Mason-Sesay and her son having been screened and given unrestricted movement in the UK.

She said: "I understand that there is a lot of misinformation about how Ebola is spread. A significant number of parents have been in touch with me to express their fears.

"As you know, I always listen to parents. Ebola cannot be spread as some parents have suggested.

"There are many parents who believe that the visit should have gone ahead and that we are contributing to misunderstandings by cancelling it.

kofi mason sesay

Nine-year-old Kofi Mason-Sesay, pictured arriving in the UK, was due to study at the school for a placement

"In this instance, it has been very hard to juggle justice to Miriam and the views of parents. Of course I would never endanger any child or colleague and I have to put my trust in the professionals.

"It is with great sadness that we decided to cancel the visit; the misguided hysteria emerging is extremely disappointing, distracting us from our core purpose of educating your children and is not an environment that I would wish a visitor to experience."

The head suggested to parents that a sizeable donation should be made instead to EducAid to recognise its work in a country "which has received more than its share of setbacks".

Before the school banned her and her son, Ms Mason-Sesay wrote on Facebook: "So...... Kofi and I have been assessed by the Health Protection Agency as category 1 risk i.e. Yes, we are incoming from a country where there is ebola but we are the lowest category of risk possible.

"We have no limitation to our activities. We are not a risk to anyone around us. That is good to know."

She tagged the post "feeling relieved".

Today, she posted: "Education is education. Dispelling ignorance ridden prejudice in the UK or in SL.

"It's all education. Hope there is an accurate picture given by the various journalists I have spoken to today!!!"

miriam kifi masonsesay

Kifi and Miriam

The World Health Organisation has said that sporadic cases of Ebola in Europe are "unavoidable" but the risk of the disease spreading is extremely low.

Accidental contamination of people exposed to the killer virus through the west African outbreak that has killed more than 3,500 people can be mitigated by strict infection control measures, Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe said.

She was speaking after as authorities in Spain deal with the first case of the disease transmitted outside west Africa, in a hospital nurse who treated a priest flown to Madrid for the illness.

Dr Jakab, a Hungarian epidemiologist, said: "Sporadic cases of Ebola virus disease in Europe are unavoidable. This is due to travel between Europe and affected countries.

"However, the risk of spread of Ebola in Europe is avoidable and extremely low.

kifi mason sesay school

The school

"European countries are among the best prepared in the world to respond to viral haemorrhagic fever (VHF) including Ebola.

"There is a risk of accidental contamination for people exposed to Ebola patients: this risk can be and must be mitigated with strict infection control measures.

"Health care workers are on the frontline of the Ebola fight and they are those most at risk of infection. They need to be protected and supported by all means.

"All countries have protocols and procedures that must be implemented when a case is suspected and it is important that these are followed diligently."

The US is monitoring around 50 people who came into contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, who remains seriously ill in a Dallas hospital after picking up the killer virus in Liberia before flying to Texas.

David Cameron this morning chaired a meeting of the Government's Cobra contingencies committee in London to discuss the ongoing African epidemic.