Health workers have gone on strike at a major state-run Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone, hospital staff told Reuters on Saturday, a further blow to efforts to contain the deadly virus.
Faced with the worst Ebola outbreak in history, West African governments have struggled to find an effective response. More than 1,550 people have died from the hemorrhagic fever since it was first detected in the forests of Guinea in March.
Transmitted through the blood, sweat and vomit of the sick, Ebola has spread quickly among health care workers who often lack the equipment to protect themselves from the virus.
Ishmael Mehemoh, chief supervisor at the Kenema clinic in eastern Sierra Leone, said the facility has only one stretcher. He said the stretcher, which is broken, is used to carry both patients and corpses, raising the risk of infection.
In a further sign of strained resources, nurses and members of the burial team at Kenema said the government had stopped paying their wages of $50 a week.
There is only one other Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone in Kailahun, and the World Health Organization shut the laboratory there this week and withdrew staff after one of its health workers caught the virus there.
So far more than 120 health workers have died from the virus across the region. In Kenema alone, 26 staff members have already died from Ebola following the death of physician Dr. Sahr Rogers.
“It is with a deep sense of sadness that we have lost one of our finest physicians in the line of duty at a time like when we need a lot of them to help in out fight against Ebola,” said Sierra Leone’s new health minister Abubakarr Fofana on Saturday.
His predecessor Miatta Kargbo was sacked the previous day over her handling of the Ebola outbreak.
LIBERIA LIFTS QUARANTINE
In neighbouring Liberia, where infection rates are highest, crowds sang and danced in the streets of a seaside neighbourhood on Saturday as the government lifted quarantine measures.
In mid-August, residents of the impoverished seaside district of West Point in Monrovia were forcibly cut off from the rest of the capital after a crowd attacked an Ebola centre there, allowing the sick to flee.
The quarantine sparked protests and security forces responded with tear gas and bullets, killing a teenaged boy.
But at dawn on Saturday, the community woke up to find the soldiers and barricades gone.
“I tell God thank you. I tell everyone thank you,” said Koffa, a female resident of West Point. Others danced in the streets chanting slogans like “we are free” while others rolled about on the asphalt pavement in celebration.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a U.S.-educated Nobel Peace Prize winner, has sought to quell criticism of the government’s response by issuing orders threatening officials with dismissal for failing to report for work or for fleeing the country, and has ordered an investigation into the West Point shooting.
Liberia plans to build five new Ebola treatment centres each with capacity for 100 beds, government and health officials said on Saturday.
Two African doctors infected with Ebola were released from hospital in Monrovia on Saturday after being treated with the experimental drug ZMapp, said Rev. John Sumo of the Liberian health ministry.
A third doctor who was given the treatment died this week.
SPREAD TO SENEGAL
Highly contagious, Ebola has also spread to Nigeria and Senegal, which reported its first confirmed case on Friday, a Guinean student who was lost to authorities in his own country while under surveillance.
“His brother came from Sierra Leone where he was infected and has died. Shortly afterwards, this student left for Senegal,” said Dr. Rafi Diallo, spokesman for the Guinean health ministry.
The student’s sister and mother have died from Ebola, Guinean health ministry sources said.
A resident in the suburb of the Senegalese capital Dakar, where the student resided, said on Saturday that a team of health ministry officials wearing white protective suits and masks came to spray disinfectant at his home and a local grocer’s shop.
Many Dakar residents worry that the student could have spread the highly contagious virus in the three weeks since he was last reported in Guinea.
In Nigeria, where an infected traveller collapsed after arriving the Lagos airport, there have so far been 19 suspected, probable and confirmed cases and seven deaths.
“To avoid a situation like Nigeria, they need to be able to follow hundreds of contacts,” said epidemiologist Jorge Castilla-Echenique of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department in Dakar. “Whatever they do, there will probably be a second set of sick people as this guy has been here for some time.”
Senegal has closed its land border with Guinea and halted flights to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, defying advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) that there is no need for travel restrictions.
A note from the WHO and the International Civil Aviation Organization sent to health ministries on Aug. 29 said: “Lives are being unnecessarily lost because health care workers cannot travel to the affected countries, and delivery of life saving equipment and supplies is being delayed.”
The World Food Programme said it needs to raise $70 million to feed 1.3 million people at risk from shortages in the Ebola-quarantined areas in West Africa, with the agency’s resources already stretched by several major humanitarian crises.
Democratic Republic of Congo declared an Ebola outbreak in its northern Equateur province last week that has killed at least 13 people. But the outbreak, which occurred near the Ebola River region where the virus was first detected in 1976, appears to be unrelated to the West Africa outbreak.