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Thursday, November 6, 2014

UN: Ebola surging in Sierra Leone amid lack of treatment centres

Health workers wearing Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) stand at an Ebola treatment center run by the non-governmental international organization Medecins Sans Frontieres in Monrovia, Liberia, on October 27, 2014. (AFP)

The number of Ebola cases is surging in Sierra Leone due to a lack of treatment centres, the United Nations said, while scarcity of food may also be forcing some people to leave quarantined areas, risking further spread of the virus.

The warning by the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) came as Sierra Leone's Deputy Minister of Health said Ebola had so badly damaged confidence in the West African country's health system that many people were dying from other diseases as the sick refused to come to clinics for treatment.

Some 4,818 people have died of Ebola, mostly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and neighbouring Guinea, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

But while the situation is improving in Liberia and stable in Guinea, two-thirds of the new cases recorded in the past three weeks have been in Sierra Leone.

UNMEER said at present Sierra Leone had just four Ebola Treatment Centres (ETCs) with a total capacity of 288 beds and these were treating 196 cases of the disease as of Sunday.

However, the UN mission said it suspects 50 percent of cases of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) were not being reported in Sierra Leone.

To control the outbreak, UNMEER estimated a total of 1,864 beds were needed by December but the 10 new treatment centres currently planned had a total capacity of just 1,133 beds.

"Lack of available beds in ETCs is forcing families to care for patients at home, where caregivers are unable to adequately protect themselves from EVD exposure, thereby increasing transmission risk," it said in a report released late on Wednesday.

UNMEER also reported a growing incidence of families leaving their quarantined homes due to a lack of food and non-food items, but did not provide further details.

It said the World Food Programme (WFP) had distributed rations to 80 percent of quarantined household and communities in the hard-hit area of Waterloo, in the outskirts of Freetown.

However, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, who has just completed a three-day visit to Sierra Leone, said there was no information to suggest this was a widespread phenomenon.

"There were isolated incidents where we did not receive a notice before the area was quarantined and so we did not provide the food," she said. "We are working to scale up as quickly as possible to ensure that no family need go in search for food."

Cousin said the UN agency had already reached its target of providing food to 1.3 million people in the region and would be scaling this up to reach more people in the weeks ahead.

Sierra Leone's Deputy Health Minister Madina Radman said the country's failure to clearly separate its Ebola treatment centres from its regular health facilities had destroyed confidence in hospitals and clinics.

"We are struggling to regain confidence in our health facilities because of this mistake," she said at a WHO conference in Benin. "About 50 percent of the deaths in the country are not Ebola but, because people fear to come to some of our healthcare facilities, they die needlessly in the community due to other treatable diseases."

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Tags:  World  Ebola  WHO  Liberia  US  Sierra Leona  





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