Fri, Dec 19, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Sierra Leone steps up fight against Ebola

WORST-HIT:Local officials and international groups are conducting street-by-street searches for patients in a campaign to curtail the spread of the disease

Reuters, DEVIL HOLE, Sierra Leone

Adama Tarawallie holds the head of her husband, Ibrahim Kamara, a suspected Ebola victim, as they wait to be transported from Devil Hole, Sierra Leone, on Wednesday.

Photo: Reuters

Ebola centers in Sierra Leone overflowed on Wednesday as health workers combed the streets of the capital, Freetown, for patients, after the government launched a major operation to contain the epidemic in West Africa’s worst-hit country.

Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma said on national television that travel between all parts of the country had been restricted as part of “Operation Western Area Surge,” and public gatherings would be strictly controlled in the runup to Christmas.

In the Devil Hole neighborhood just outside Freetown, Ebola surveillance officers questioned Ibrahim Kamara as he sat in a discarded vehicle tire, his eyes glassy and his breath coming in gasps.

“Is the body weak?” a surveillance officer shouted.

Kamara, 31, nodded despondently, while onlookers gathered round.

“Vomiting?” the officer asked.

Kamara nodded again.

Kamara’s wife, Adama Tarawallie, said a neighbor had died last Saturday from Ebola-like symptoms. When they had tried to take a taxi to hospital, the driver made them get out when he discovered her husband was ill.

The surveillance officers wrote down the couple’s address and the names of five family members in their household, before calling an ambulance.

Such street-by-street searches form a key part of a month-long push by the government, a British task force and international groups in the populous west of Sierra Leone, where the epidemic is raging. Their aim is to score a breakthrough against the disease within four to six weeks.

Sierra Leone, neighboring Guinea and Liberia are at the heart of the world’s worst recorded outbreak of Ebola. Rates of infection are rising fastest in Sierra Leone, which now accounts for more than half of the 18,603 confirmed cases of the virus.

The death toll from the epidemic had risen to 6,915 as of Sunday, the WHO said on Wednesday, adding that the increase in cases in Sierra Leone appeared to have slowed, although 327 new cases were confirmed there in the past week.

Shortages of resources, strikes by unpaid healthcare workers and logistical challenges have dogged the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone.

The ambulance meant to collect Kamara took three hours to arrive in Devil Hole, where he had already been waiting for six hours on the street. A nurse in the ambulance said some holding centers were already full as a result of the surge.

When the ambulance drove away, Kamara left behind a red blanket. It was immediately sprayed with disinfectant by the Ebola response team while his wife watched expressionless.

At the King Tom Cemetery in Freetown, weary grave diggers clothed head to foot in protective waterproof yellow clothing said that they had buried 51 people on Wednesday alone.

With the cemetery already full, burial teams have expanded the site to a former rubbish dump, angering some bereaved families. Syringes and rusting iron lay in empty graves, while the burial teams had to throw stones at pigs roaming among the rubbish to keep them away from the dead.

Health officials are alarmed by the widespread transmission in Freetown, similar to an eruption of Ebola in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, in August that is only now being brought under control.

According to the government plan, health workers will seek victims and anyone with whom they have had contact, transporting the infected to new British-built treatment centers.

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