Sierra Leone suffers Ebola setback

Health workers from Sierra Leone's Red Cross Society Burial Team in Freetown. (Francisco Leong, AFP)

Health workers from Sierra Leone's Red Cross Society Burial Team in Freetown. (Francisco Leong, AFP)

Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown has suffered a fresh outbreak of Ebola, dashing hopes that health authorities in the densely populated city of 1.2-million people had beaten the deadly epidemic.

The government’s National Ebola Response Centre (Nerc) said late on Tuesday that three cases had emerged in the east-end slum of Magazine Wharf – three weeks after the last known infections in the capital.

Health officials said six people have been under observation since the first of the new cases, a casual labourer, tested positive on June 17.

Authorities are concerned that the case could lead to a mini-outbreak in the overcrowded fishing community, which has poor sanitation and is hit regularly by outbreaks of malaria and cholera.

Liberia was declared Ebola-free in May, but hopes that neighbouring Sierra Leone and Guinea would quickly follow suit have been dashed recently, with the weekly toll of infections in the two countries hovering around 25.

Stalled retreat
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned earlier this month that the retreat of the virus “that was apparent throughout April and early May has stalled”.

“The bumpy road to zero will continue to try our resolve and patience to the limit, but I ask for your commitment and understanding while we head towards the final stage of this fight,” Nerc chief executive Palo Conteh told reporters in Freetown on Wednesday.

“Textbooks tell us that the last stages of any outbreak of this nature can be difficult and frustrating, and I can confirm from personal experience that they are right.”

One of the deadliest viruses known to man, Ebola is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms, such as fever or vomiting, or the recently deceased.

Authorities have blamed the failure of Sierra Leone and Guinea to eradicate the virus on people hiding deaths in the family and carrying out unsafe burials that are aiding the spread of Ebola.   

Corrupt disposal teams
Conteh said he had received reports of expert disposal teams demanding up to one million leones (about R2 900) from bereaved families for burials and promised a “full inquiry” to bring the practice to a stop.

According to the WHO, as of June 21 there were 27 443 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, of which 11 207 had been fatal.

Sierra Leone has seen almost half of the total caseload and reported more than 3 900 deaths.

People in the worst-hit chiefdoms of Kambia and Port Loko have been confined to their homes until the beginning of August over fears that the disease is resurgent in the northwest.

The country has extended a nationwide state of emergency until September. The move restricts public gatherings and other activities that could help spread the virus.

Authorities in Kambia said an extra 800 soldiers and 700 police had been deployed to ensure locals respected the regulations.

“There are increased human resources available and the presence of the security forces is overwhelming,” said Alfred Kamara, the district Ebola co-ordinator, adding that around 600 people had been quarantined in two villages.
– AFP

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