West African Ebola death toll hits 932

Liberia shuts down hospital where several staff are infected

A Liberian woman washes her hands at the Women in Peace building program (WIPNET) sensitisation booth in Monrovia, Liberia. The country shut a hospital where several staff were infected yesterday. Photograph: Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA

A Liberian woman washes her hands at the Women in Peace building program (WIPNET) sensitisation booth in Monrovia, Liberia. The country shut a hospital where several staff were infected yesterday. Photograph: Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA


Health workers in west Africa appealed yesterday for urgent help in controlling the world’s worst Ebola outbreak as the death toll climbed to 932 and Liberia shut a hospital where several staff were infected, including a Spanish priest.

The outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever has overwhelmed rudimentary healthcare systems and prompted the deployment of troops to quarantine the worst-hit areas in the remote border region of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported 45 new deaths in the three days to August 4th. Its experts began an emergency meeting in Geneva yesterday to discuss whether the epidemic constitutes a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” and to consider new measures to contain it, including the possible use of experimental drug treatments.

“This outbreak is unprecedented and out of control,” said Walter Lorenzi, head of medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Sierra Leone. “We have a desperate need for other actors on the ground – not in offices or in meetings – but with their rubber gloves on, in the field.”

International alarm at the spread of the disease increased when a US citizen died in Nigeria last month after flying there from Liberia. The health minister said yesterday that a Nigerian nurse who had treated the deceased Patrick Sawyer had also died of Ebola, and five other people were being treated in an isolation ward in Lagos, Africa’s largest city.

With doctors on strike, Lagos health commissioner Jide Idris said volunteers were urgently needed to track 70 people who had come into contact with Sawyer. Only 27 have so far been traced.

In Saudi Arabia, a man suspected of contracting Ebola during a recent business trip to Sierra Leone also died early yesterday in Jeddah, the Health Ministry said. Saudi Arabia has already suspended pilgrimage visas from west African countries, which could prevent those hoping to visit Mecca for the Haj in early October.

Liberia, where the death toll is rising fastest, is struggling to cope. Many residents are panicking, in some cases casting out the bodies of family members onto the streets of Monrovia to avoid quarantine measures.

Beneath heavy rain, ambulance sirens wailed through the otherwise quiet streets of Monrovia yesterday as residents heeded a government request to stay at home for three days of fasting and prayers.

“Everyone is afraid of Ebola. You cannot tell who has Ebola or not. Ebola is not like a cut mark that you can see and run,” said Sarah Wehyee as she stocked up on food at the local market in Paynesville, an eastern suburb of Monrovia.

St Joseph’s Catholic hospital was shut down after the Cameroonian hospital director died from Ebola, authorities said. Six staff subsequently tested positive for the disease, including two nuns and 75-year old Spanish priest Miguel Pajares, who is due to be repatriated by a special medical aircraft.

Spain’s health ministry denied that one of the nuns – born in Equatorial Guinea but holding Spanish nationality – had tested positive for Ebola. The other nun is Congolese.

“We hope they can evacuate us. It would be marvellous, because we know that, if they take us to Spain, at least we will be in good hands,” Pajares told CNN in Spanish this week.

Healthcare workers are in the front line of fighting the virus. Two US health workers from Christian medical charity Samaritan’s Purse caught the virus in Monrovia and are now receiving treatment in an Atlanta hospital.

The two saw their conditions improve by varying degrees in Liberia after they received an experimental drug, a representative for the charity said.

Three of the world’s leading Ebola specialists urged the WHO to offer people in west Africa the chance to take experimental drugs, too, but the agency said it “would not recommend any drug that has not gone through the normal process of licensing and clinical trials”. A spokesman for the Liberian government said it would be willing to allow in-country clinical trials. – (Reuters)