Nigeria is celebrating its success in containing the Ebola Virus. But for Sierra Leone and Liberia, it seems the time for good news is not here yet. Sierra Leone lost a third doctor yesterday and British Airways and Air France have cancelled flights to both countries
It seemed like the Armageddon was here. But Nigeria, which prides itself as African giant, has been able to contain Ebola. Only one patient with confirmed Ebola is left in isolation. Five persons, including the index case, Liberian Patrick Sawyer and Dr Stella Adadevoh, have died in the country. Many who were either on surveillance or with confirmed cases have been declared free of Ebola and have since resumed their normal life.
Sierra Leone and Liberia are, however, still groaning under Ebola’s jackboot. A third doctor, who contracted the virus, died yesterday. Airlines, such as British Airways and Air France, also announced the cancellation of flights to the troubled countries.
The doctor’s death raised worries about Sierra Leone’s fight against Ebola, which already has killed more than 1,400 people across West Africa. The World Health Organization said it was sending a team to investigate how the epidemiologist now undergoing treatment in Germany may have contracted the disease that kills more than half its victims.
“The international surge of health workers is extremely important and if something happens, if health workers get infected and it scares off other international health workers from coming, we will be in dire straits,” said Christy Feig, director of WHO communications.
Dr. Sahr Rogers had been working at a hospital in the eastern town of Kenema when he contracted Ebola, said Sierra Leonean presidential adviser Ibrahim Ben Kargbo on Wednesday. Two other top doctors already have succumbed to Ebola since the outbreak emerged there earlier this year, including Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, who also treated patients in Kenema.
Rogers’ death marks yet another setback for Sierra Leone, a country still recovering from years of civil war, where there are only two doctors per 100,000 people, according to WHO. By comparison, there are 245 doctors per 100,000 in the United States.
The Senegalese epidemiologist who was evacuated to Germany had been doing surveillance work for the U.N. health agency, said Feig, the WHO spokeswoman. The position involves coordinating the outbreak response by working with lab experts, health workers and hospitals, but does not usually involve direct treatment of patients.
“He wasn’t in treatment centers normally,” she said by telephone from Sierra Leone. “It’s possible he went in there and wasn’t properly covered, but that’s why we’ve taken this unusual measure — to try to figure out what happened.”
WHO said late Tuesday that it was pulling out its team from the eastern Sierra Leonean city of Kailahun, where the epidemiologist working with the organization was recently infected. The team was exhausted and the added stress of a colleague getting sick could increase the risk of mistakes, said Daniel Kertesz, the organization’s representative in the country.
Canada also announced late Tuesday it was evacuating a three-member mobile laboratory team from Sierra Leone after people in their hotel were diagnosed with Ebola. The Public Agency of Canada said none of the team members was showing any signs of illness but that they would remain in voluntary isolation during the 21-day incubation period.
Health workers have been especially vulnerable because of their close proximity to patients, who can spread the virus through bodily fluids. WHO says more than 120 health workers have died in the four affected countries — Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.
While some local health workers have lacked proper protective gear, the teams from the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders are usually well-equipped and trained in how to use the protective suiting.
A team of two experts was sent Tuesday to investigate whether the case occurred through straightforward exposure to Ebola patients, or something else, said Feig, the WHO spokeswoman. She said the team is checking to see if there is an infection risk in the living and working environments that had not been discovered.
There is no proven treatment for Ebola, so health workers primarily focus on isolating the sick. But a small number of patients in this outbreak have received an experimental drug called ZMapp. The London hospital treating a British nurse infected in Sierra Leone, William Pooley, said he is now receiving the drug.
It was unclear where the doses for Pooley came from. The California-based maker of ZMapp had said that its supplies were exhausted and that it would take months before more doses would be available.
Two Americans, a Spaniard and three health workers in Liberia have received ZMapp, though it is unclear if the drug is effective. The Americans have recovered and have been released from an Atlanta hospital, but the Spaniard died, as did a Liberian doctor.
Health officials in Liberia said the other two recipients of ZMapp in Liberia — a Congolese doctor and a Liberian physician’s assistant, have recovered. Both are expected to be discharged from an Ebola treatment center on Friday, said Dr. Moses Massaquoi, a Liberian doctor with the treatment team.
British Airways is suspending all of its flights between London and Liberian and Sierra Leone for the rest of the year.
The airline initially said it was halting its service between Heathrow Airport and Liberia and Sierra Leone until the end of August due to ‘the deteriorating public health situation in both countries’, but it confirmed yesterday that it is extending the suspension until December 31.
The decision was first announced by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in an updated travel advisory for Britons.
In a statement, British Airways said: ‘The safety of our customers, crew and ground teams is always our top priority and we will regularly reassess the routes in the coming months.
‘Customers with tickets on those routes are being offered a full refund or a range of rebooking options.’
British Airways, the national flag carrier for the UK, normally operates four flights a week between Heathrow Airport and Monrovia, Liberia, with a stopover in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Air France has also suspended its flights to and from Sierra Leone, and the French government has urged French nationals to leave Sierra Leone amid concerns about the epidemic.
Air France announced that it temporarily halted its flights to Freetown, Sierra Leone because of the Ebola outbreak there and at the request of the French government.
The French national carrier said it is maintaining its flights to Conakry, Guinea, and to Lagos, Nigeria, cities it flies to once a day. Referring to Ebola, the airline said, “Measures in place at airports there “guarantee … that no passengers presenting symptoms … can board.”
The French government said the increasing spread of Ebola — notably in Liberia and Sierra Leone — prompted its request for suspension of Air France flights to Sierra Leone and its recommendation that French citizens leave Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Several airlines have stopped flying into and out of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria as they grapple with the worst outbreak since the virus was first detected in 1976.
British Airways followed the lead of Emirates, which became the first major international airline to cancel flights, and African carriers Arik and ASKY.
Kenya Airways and Korean Air Lines have also halted flights to the region.
The current outbreak is believed to have started in Guinea last December.
The World Health Organisation said the risk of transmission of Ebola virus disease during air travel is low and it does not recommend any ban on international travel or trade.
The FCO is encouraging people to refer to the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s website before travelling to the affected countries, but it has not implemented any travel restrictions.
The FCO issued a warning on its website: ‘You should carefully assess your need to travel to these countries. If you do decide to travel, you should make sure you have adequate arrangements in place for onward travel/exit and have adequate emergency health provision.’
Ebola is spread by close contact with organs or bodily fluids from an infected person or animal – living or dead – and there is no proven cure or vaccine.
The highly transmissible virus causes haemorrhagic fever that kills as many as 60 per cent to 80 per cent of the people it infects in Africa.
•Additional reports by Daily Mail, Associated Press Medical Writer Maria Cheng in London; Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia; David Rising in Berlin; Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal; and Rob Gillies in Toronto.