Mon, Sep 15, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Ebola kills fourth doctor in Sierra Leone

AP, FREETOWN

Sierra Leone has lost a fourth doctor to Ebola after a failed effort to transfer her abroad for medical treatment, a government official said ysterday, a huge setback to the impoverished country that is battling the virulent disease amid a shortage of healthcare workers.

Olivet Buck died late on Saturday, hours after the WHO said it could not help evacuate her to Germany, chief medical officer Brima Kargbo confirmed to reporters.

Sierra Leone requested funds to evacuate the doctor to Germany on Friday. A letter from Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma’s office said he had approved Buck’s evacuation to a hospital in Hamburg, Germany, “where they are in readiness to receive her.”

Buck, a citizen of Sierra Leone, would be the first doctor from one of the countries hit hardest by Ebola to receive treatment abroad. The other three doctors from Sierra Leone died in the country.

The letter, sent to the WHO’s country representative on Friday and seen on Saturday by reporters, said Buck tested positive for Ebola on Tuesday.

“We have been informed that Dr Buck is quite ill,” it said.

A WHO spokesman on Saturday said that it could not comply with the request and instead would work to give Buck “the best care possible” in Sierra Leone, including access to experimental drugs.

“WHO is unable to organize evacuation of this doctor to [Germany], but is exploring all options on how to ensure best care,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

Because Ebola is only transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of people showing symptoms or from dead bodies of Ebola victims, health workers have been especially vulnerable.

A total of 301 health workers had become infected as of Sept. 7 in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the WHO. Of that tally, which included suspected and probable cases as well as confirmed ones, 144 had died.

The infections have exacerbated shortages of doctors and nurses in west African countries that were already low on skilled health personnel.

So far, only foreign health and aid workers have been evacuated abroad from Sierra Leone and Liberia for treatment.

Cuba’s health ministry said on Friday that it would send more than 160 health workers to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone, a move that WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said would “make a significant difference.”

In Liberia, the country that has recorded the highest number of Ebola cases and deaths, officials on Saturday released a letter that Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf sent last week to US President Barack Obama appealing for a dramatic increase in support to address an emergency she said “threatens civil order.”

Sirleaf described how Liberia’s health system had been swiftly overwhelmed by the outbreak and how doctors were afraid to go to work after seeing their colleagues die.

“Diseases that were treated with relative ease pre-Ebola now take lives because of the pall that Ebola has cast over our health system,” she said.

In the letter dated Tuesday last week, Sirleaf asked for the US to set up and operate at least one Ebola treatment unit in the capital, Monrovia, and to help restore services at 10 other hospitals. She also requested help in maintaining “air bridges” for supplies and personnel, as many airlines have canceled flights in and out of Monrovia.

“I am being honest with you when I say that at this rate, we will never break the transmission chain and the virus will overwhelm us,” Sirleaf said.

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