Africa Battles To Stop Deadly Spread Of Ebola

July 2, 2014 12:08 pm


The worst Ebola outbreak ever is spreading and will almost certainly extend across West Africa unless there is cross-country co-operation and urgent international assistance.

The porous borders between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has meant the disease is not being contained and now risks spreading even further.

Health workers at the epicentre, where the borders of the three countries meet, have made an urgent appeal through Sky News for immediate international help to try to control the virus.

Philip Azumah, the Foya district health officer, said: “We need help now, or the virus will spread and kill more people.”


It is difficult to determine exactly how many people have already died from the disease given the cross-border contamination and lack of accounting.

But it is already clear there are many more deaths than any previous outbreak.

Aid organisation Doctors Without Borders has already said it is the largest outbreak on record, with the highest number of deaths.

Across the three countries, more than 400 have died in this latest outbreak, with no sign of the disease being halted.

And for the first time the disease has spread to highly populated areas including cities such as Guinea’s capital, Conakry.


At one of the high-risk infection centres set up in Foya, in Liberia, the medics insisted we, like them, took extreme precautions.

This included wearing two layers of protective head-to-toe clothing featuring one waterproof all-in-one outfit, face and head masks, double gloves, thick plastic aprons, sturdy goggles and rubber boots.

Among the victims was a nurse who contracted Ebola after caring for a person who later died from the virus.

Nurse Elizabeth Smith was lying on a bed next to another nurse who had contracted Ebola from the same patient they had both treated.

But Ms Smith was significantly weaker than her co-worker. She did not raise her head as we entered and her bed was soaked in blood.


Neither woman had realised they were treating a patient with Ebola, so had taken none of the precautions their colleagues were now taking.

Two of them sprayed Ms Smith with disinfectant, down her legs, her feet, her hands and arms as they stood arms-length away in their head-to-toe protective clothing and visors. Gingerly, they took her arms and helped her to her feet, before escorting her down the tent corridor to the high-risk area.

Here, every patient is a confirmed Ebola case and the odds are that 90% of them will die.

The frightening deadliness of Ebola, plus the ignorance around it and the lack of a cure, has thrown the medical staff in this area into a panic.

Francis Forndia, administrator for Foya-Borma Hospital, where medical staff have died after treating victims, told us his workers simply fled after nurses began dying.

“It is hard to get them to return, but we have managed to persuade some to come back by explaining to them how needed they are,” he said.


Mr Azumah is co-ordinating the health battle against Ebola in this area. He tells me the first recent outbreak in Liberia was in March, when an infected woman travelled to Foya from Guinea.

She died two days after being admitted to the sole and tiny hospital in Foya. By the time of her death, she had infected eleven people in hospital alone.

Two of them were nurses who went on to die. The remaining nine somehow managed to survive.

Then Liberia went a solid three weeks without an incident and believed they were clear – until the end of May.

This time, a woman from Sierra Leone, probably out of fear, gave misleading information about where she had come from.


She told investigators she was local, which was true, but did not mention she had in fact spent some time in an infected area of Sierra Leone.

This time the consequences were much more widespread. She had infected a stream of people, six of whom died.

They are still trying to trace all those she may have been in contact with.

There have since been other outbreaks in Voinjamma and the Liberian capital, Monrovia, while Guinea and Sierra Leone continue to register deaths, too.

Mr Azumah said: “In our culture, it is the habit to wash the dead body, look after it for a week in the home, kiss and touch it, even eat meals with the dead body – and we believe this has led to the virus spreading.

“Also people are keeping the illnesses and deaths secret if they suspect Ebola.”

By alerting the authorities to possible Ebola, people risk being ostracised by their communities.

There is even a fear among these poverty stricken communities that the visiting health workers are spreading the virus.

But what seems significant is that, in Liberia at least, one of the poorest countries in the world, they are largely coping with this virulent disease on their own – with very little outside help evident.


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