France's Hollande warns against isolating Ebola-hit Guinea, as first Western leader to visit affected region

CONAKRY (REUTERS) - President Francois Hollande, the first Western leader to visit Ebola-stricken West Africa, warned on Friday against isolating one of the countries hit by the worst epidemic of the disease on record.

During a brief visit to Guinea's capital Conakry, Hollande was greeted by President Alpha Conde before visiting a hospital and meeting health workers battling the outbreak.

Hollande said the French people should be aware of what was happening in Guinea, the origin of the epidemic that has killed 1,200 Guineans and more than 5,600 people across West Africa.

But he said they should also be vigilant.

"Vigilant that Guinea is always open to the world, that it isn't isolated, including during this phase, and that it can continue to ensure its development," he said at a news conference at the end of the visit.

A number of countries, including several of Guinea's neighbours, have introduced restrictions on travellers from Ebola-affected nations, despite warnings from the World Health Organisation that such measures could do serious harm.

Hollande's words echoed those of Fanta Camara, an Ebola survivor he met earlier in the day.

"It's Ebola that we must isolate, not the country," she said.

France, Guinea's former colonial master, has agreed to set up a military hospital in the country to help fight the outbreak and has pledged 100 million euros (S$162.7 million) in financial assistance for the Ebola effort.

"France wants to set an example. Beyond material help, it is human help which is the most important," Hollande told journalists, saying he had come to "deliver a message of hope".

Other Western nations are also ramping up their support.

The United States is deploying up to 3,000 troops, mostly in neighbouring Liberia, while Britain has sent military staff to build treatments centres in Sierra Leone.

"The people of Guinea are very grateful. You are at home in Guinea," Conde said.

Conde's government has made some progress in bringing the outbreak under control, but aid workers say local resistance to help is hampering efforts to curb the spread in rural areas.

Hollande was due to travel to neighbouring Senegal later on Friday for a summit of French-speaking nations.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.