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Streets in Sierra Leone's capital bustling after unprecedented lockdown to slow Ebola spread

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FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — Streets in Sierra Leone's capital bustled again Monday after an unprecedented nationwide shutdown during which officials said more than 1 million households were checked for Ebola patients and given information on how to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.

The government delayed an announcement on how many new cases had been discovered.

The national health system, already hit by the Ebola deaths of several leading doctors and many nurses, would be further strained if many additional patients were found.

Sierra Leone and Liberia, which have been hardest hit in this outbreak, have only about 20 percent of the beds they need to treat patients, according to the World Health Organization.

The Sierra Leone government has ordered tents for temporary treatment centers to make room for those additional cases, said Abdulai Bayraytay, a government spokesman.

Liberia opened a 150-bed treatment center on Sunday, its largest so far, and ambulances immediately rushed patients there. By Monday, the new clinic had admitted 112 people, though only 46 of those have tested positive for Ebola, said Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah. The rest are being held for observation and treated for other diseases, like malaria.

Ebola, transmitted through bodily fluids, is blamed for the deaths of more than 2,800 people in West Africa, according to new figures released Monday by the World Health Organization. More than 5,800 people are believed to have been sickened in the outbreak. The vast majority of the cases and deaths have been in Liberia but the disease has also affected Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal.

The hardest hit countries have resorted to extraordinary measures. Liberia has cordoned off entire towns or neighborhoods and Sierra Leone's nationwide shutdown is believed to be the most sweeping lockdown against disease since the Middle Ages.

During Sierra Leone's shutdown, at least 77 bodies were buried during the shutdown and half of them tested positive for Ebola, Bayraytay, the spokesman, said. Officials are waiting on laboratory tests for the other half to see whether they also died of Ebola. The disease is thought to have killed more than 600 people in Sierra Leone, a nation of 6 million.

PHOTO: An ambulance drops people suspected of having been infected by the Ebola virus inside the Connaught Hospital, during a three-day lockdown to prevent the spread on the virus in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Volunteers going door to door during a three-day lockdown intended to combat Ebola in Sierra Leone say some residents are growing increasingly frustrated and complaining about food shortages.(AP Photo/ Michael Duff)
An ambulance drops people suspected of having been infected by the Ebola virus inside the Connaught Hospital, during a three-day lockdown to prevent the spread on the virus in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Volunteers going door to door during a three-day lockdown intended to combat Ebola in Sierra Leone say some residents are growing increasingly frustrated and complaining about food shortages.(AP Photo/ Michael Duff)

The number of new suspected Ebola cases that were discovered during the lockdown will be announced by Sierra Leone authorities at a press conference Tuesday, originally scheduled for Monday.

There is little reason to believe the lockdown had been effective in ending transmission since such measures are so hard to enforce, said Joe Amon, director of health and human rights for Human Rights Watch. Frustrated residents complained of food shortages in some neighborhoods.

"You could argue that it's strictly necessary not because it's an effective way to break transmission but because it's necessary to reach people with communication messages," he said.

Teams carrying soap and information about Ebola reached about 75 percent of 1.5 million households in this nation, the Health Ministry said. Rumors that the soap being distributed had been poisoned showed the importance of education efforts.

Sierra Leone residents overwhelmingly complied by staying in their homes but in one incident health workers trying to bury five bodies 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Freetown were attacked on Saturday. After police reinforcements arrived, the health workers completed the burial.

Nearly 350 health workers in West Africa have been infected, and more than half of those have died. A Spanish priest who became infected while serving as a medical director for a hospital in Sierra Leone was flown back to Spain on Monday.

There are no approved treatments or vaccines for Ebola, but officials have been trying out experimental drugs during this outbreak. The small supply of one drug, ZMapp, was exhausted after being used on a few patients.

On Monday, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals of Canada said that its experimental Ebola treatment had been used for a number of patients, and regulators in the U.S. and Canada had approved its use in more. It said the drug had been well tolerated so far.

Tekmira said there were limited supplies of its TKM-Ebola drug and because it has not been used in an actual study, the company acknowledged it is impossible to tell if it had any effect.


Paye-Layleh reported from Monrovia, Liberia. Associated Press journalist Wade Williams in Monrovia, Liberia, contributed to this report.

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PHOTO: In this photo provided by the Spanish Defense Ministry, aid workers and doctors transfer Manuel Garcia Viejo, a Spanish priest who was diagnosed with the Ebola virus while working in Sierra Leone, from a military plane to an ambulance as he leaves the Torrejon de Ardoz military airbase, near Madrid, Spain, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014. The Spanish priest who was diagnosed with the Ebola virus while working in Sierra Leone has been flown back to Spain and taken to a Madrid hospital. Garcia Viejo, a medical director of the San Juan de Dios Hospital in the city of Lunsar in Sierra Leone, arrived on a medically equipped military plane shortly after 3 a.m. Monday. (AP Photo/Spanish Defense Ministry)
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