Ebola: Danger in Sierra Leone, Progress in Liberia

Ebola: Danger in Sierra Leone, Progress in Liberia

A man walks past a billboard warning people of the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia. (Associated Press)

Freetown, Sierra Leone:  Liberia is making some progress in containing the Ebola outbreak while Sierra Leone is "in a crisis situation which is going to get worse," the top anti-Ebola officials in the two countries said.

The people of both countries must redouble efforts to stop the disease, which has infected more than 13,000 people and killed nearly 5,000, the officials said. Their assessments underscore that Ebola remains a constant threat until the outbreak is wiped out. It can appear to be on the wane, only to re-emerge in the same place or balloon elsewhere if people don't avoid touching Ebola patients or the bodies of those who succumb to the disease.

"We need to go ahead to stop the transmission in order to arrest the situation," Palo Conteh said late Wednesday in the Sierra Leone capital, in his first press conference since the president this month appointed him CEO of the National Ebola Response Center. Conteh was previously the defense minister.

"Today we have a new and vicious enemy, an enemy that does not wear uniform, that ... attacks anyone that comes into contact with (it) and if unchecked will ravage our beautiful land and its fine people," he said.

The outbreak has taken a particularly high toll on health workers, sickening more than 520, and greatly reducing the health system's capacity to respond in the three most-affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Those countries already had too few health workers before the crisis. Now many health workers are too frightened to treat Ebola patients because they often have inadequate protection.

The World Bank announced Thursday that it will give an additional $100 million to help bring in more foreign health workers. That raises the money it has given to the Ebola fight to $500 million.

The new funds will be used to train, pay and house health workers while they're in the Ebola hot zone and provide medical care or evacuation for anyone infected.

"It is our hope that this $100 million can help be a catalyst for a rapid surge of health workers to the communities in dire need," Jim Yong Kim, the bank's president, said in a statement Thursday. He is visiting Ghana, where the U.N. mission on Ebola is based.

If the virus continues to surge in the worst-affected countries and spreads to neighboring countries, the financial impact could reach $32.6 billion by the end of 2015, the bank has warned.

But there are some signs of hope. Although the outbreak is now hitting areas in and around Sierra Leone's capital, areas of the country's east have seen the disease wane.

"If people in other areas of the country copy the example of eastern Kailahun and Kenema Districts, then the spread of the disease will subside like in Kailahun and Kenema. As I speak, people (near the capital) are still touching people suspected with the Ebola disease, people are still burying corpses at night of those who have died of the disease," Conteh said.

With international assistance growing, Conteh said up to 700 beds would be set up in treatment centers and that the United Nations has four helicopters in the country. A British hospital ship is expected to dock in Freetown on Thursday.

In neighboring Liberia, the rate of Ebola infections appears to be declining, perhaps by as much by 25 percent week over week, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

Tolbert Nyenswah, the assistant minister of health who leads the Liberian government's Ebola response, cautioned that does not mean that the international response can let up. There remains a risk that the gains could be reversed even as there has been a decrease in the number of patients seeking Ebola treatment, the number of bodies collected and the number of lab-confirmed cases.

"These indicators are showing that there's good progress being made in terms of the trend, but a very slow progress, and so we cannot celebrate right now," he said late Wednesday.

"We need to re-galvanize our efforts, accelerate the interventions, remain vigilant," added Nyenswah.

Liberia is the hardest hit country in the Ebola outbreak sweeping West Africa that has also ravaged Guinea and Sierra Leone. Of the more than 13,700 cases recorded in the outbreak, more than 6,500 are believed to be in Liberia. Experts say that even those high tolls might be an underestimate as many cases have gone unreported because people are too afraid to seek treatment, die before they can find an open clinic or get sick in remote areas.

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