Sierra Leone, Liberia deploy troops as Ebola toll hits 887
Hundreds of troops have been deployed in Sierra Leone and Liberia to quarantine communities hit by the deadly Ebola virus, as the death toll from the worst-ever outbreak reached 887 and three new cases were reported in Nigeria.
With healthcare systems in the West Africa nations overrun by the epidemic, the African Development Bank and World Bank said they would immediately disburse $260 million to the three countries worst affected - Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
The World Health Organization, which warned last week of catastrophic consequences if the disease were not controlled, reported 61 new deaths in the two days to August 1 as the disease continues to spread.
The outbreak began in February in the forests of Guinea. The toll there continues to rise, but the epicentre has since shifted to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In Nigeria, where US citizen Patrick Sawyer became the first person to die of the virus after arriving from Liberia in late July, the WHO reported three new cases, two of them probable and one suspected.
Nigerian authorities had said earlier today that a doctor who treated Sawyer had contracted the disease. A health ministry official declined to comment on the discrepancy.
Panic among local communities, which have attacked health workers and threatened to burn down isolation wards, prompted Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to announce tough measures last week, including the closure of schools and the quarantine of the remote forest region hardest hit by the disease.
Long convoys of military trucks ferried troops and medical workers to Sierra Leone's far east, where the density of cases is highest. Military spokesman Colonel Michael Samoura said the operation, code-named Octopus, involved around 750 military personnel.
Troops will gather in the southeastern town of Bo before travelling to isolated communities to implement quarantines, he added. Healthcare workers will be allowed to come and go freely, and the communities will be kept supplied with food.
In neighbouring Liberia, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and ministers held a crisis meeting on Sunday to discuss a series of anti-Ebola measures as police contained infected communities in the northern Lofa county.
Police were setting up checkpoints and roadblocks for key entrance and exit points to those infected communities, with nobody allowed to leave quarantined communities. Troops were fanning out across Liberia to help deal with the emergency.
"The situation will probably get worse before it gets better," Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown told Reuters. "We are over-stretched. We need support; we need resources; we need workers."