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West Africa seeks $5-6 billion aid, debts canceled: Sierra Leone's Koroma
April 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Stella Dawson* [caption id="attachment_17546" align="alignleft" width="300"]President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, back right, meet with, from left, Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Guinean President Alpha Condé, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, to discuss progress made in the international Ebola response. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, back right, meet with, from left, Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Guinean President Alpha Condé, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, to discuss progress made in the international Ebola response. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)[/caption] WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The Ebola-stricken nations of West Africa are asking international donors to cancel their debts and give them $5-6 billion over two years to rebuild their economies, devastated by the deadly disease, Sierra Leone’s president said on Thursday.

“Our social services are ruined, our economies have halted, and we need a real Marshall Plan to take us out of the woods,” President Ernest Bai Koroma said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The leaders of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia will unveil their regional reconstruction program at a meeting on Friday with the heads of the World Bank, the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund.

Koroma said he wants World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to deliver on his promise last year of regional reconstruction on the scale of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II. The three nations also need about $4 billion in debt forgiveness over and above the relief already provided, he said.

“If that (debt) is canceled and support is provided to our regional program, it will take us a long way forward in our transformation agenda,” Koroma said.

The request is sizable. Already the international community has pledged $5.6 billion to tackle Ebola and the damage it has wrought. More than 10,000 people have died since the virus struck West Africa a year ago and 25,791 people have been diagnosed with the disease, rocking a region still recovering from civil wars.

The number of new Ebola infections has fallen sharply recently, raising prospects for zero infections soon. The World Health Organisation reported 37 confirmed cases in the week to April 12, down from 150 four weeks earlier.

But the social and economic toll has been immense. The healthcare systems collapsed, schools closed, flights were canceled, workers left and unemployment has soared.

Economic output this year is forecast to contract 13 percent in Sierra Leone, 1.4 percent in Liberia and growth to stall in Guinea. The global collapse in commodity prices has ruined their export sectors.

FOOD INSECURITY

Food shortages are worsening. As the disease cut huge swathes through families and villages, farmers were unable to tend their crops. The World Food Programme is providing supplies.

Koroma said he was concerned about the planting season for rice, a staple for his country, and said farmers urgently needed seedlings, equipment and fertilizer within the next few weeks.

ernest-bai-koroma“This is very critical,” he said. “We have to move quickly and cut through the bureaucracy.”

The World Food Programme forecasts the number of food insecure people in Sierra Leone, meaning they cannot get enough to eat, will increase by one third to 610,000 this year.

Koroma said the number will be much lower if the country’s farmers do not miss the April-May rice planting season.

The international community already has provided support through healthcare program and IMF credit facilities. But Koroma said that now that the health crisis is ebbing, a regional reconstruction plan led by the World Bank and supported by bilateral and multilateral donors is crucial to put the three countries’ economies onto a secure path.

*Source Reuters/Yahoo]]>

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Ebola outbreak 'over by August', UN suggests
March 24, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Smitha Mundasad*

_81829766_dc893fec-f025-467b-93ee-861f8420aac6The Ebola outbreak in West Africa will be over by August, the head of the UN Ebola mission has told the BBC.

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed admitted the UN had made mistakes in handling the crisis early on, sometimes acting “arrogantly”. A year after the outbreak was officially declared, the virus has killed more than 10,000 people. The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres says a “global coalition of inaction” led to tragic consequences. Looking back over the year, the charity suggests its early calls for help were ignored by local governments and the World Health Organization. Most deaths occurred in the worst-affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The head of the UN Ebola response mission told the BBC, when the virus first struck, “there was probably a lack of knowledge and there was a certain degree of arrogance, but I think we are learning lessons. “We have been running away from giving any specific date, but I am pretty sure myself that it will be gone by the summer.”

‘Turned away’

The first person to succumb to the disease during this outbreak is thought to have been a toddler in a remote part of Guinea. He died in December 2013. Three months later the WHO officially announced an outbreak. And it was a further five months before the organisation declared it a public health emergency of international concern. At this point more than 1,000 people had lost their lives. Henry Gray, MSF emergency coordinator, told the BBC: “We were well aware this was something different in March and April last year and we did try to bring this to the attention of the WHO but also governments within the countries affected.

Ebola deaths

Figures up to 21 March 2015

10,314

Deaths – probable, confirmed and suspected
(Includes one in the US and six in Mali)
  • 4,296 Liberia
  • 3,742 Sierra Leone
  • 2,261 Guinea
  • 8 Nigeria
    “And of course it was frustrating that we weren’t heard and that has probably led to the scale of the epidemic we see today.” The charity says it should also have used more of its own resources earlier in the crisis. The analysis, which includes dozens of interviews with MSF staff, says by the end of August 2014 treatment centres in Liberia where overwhelmed. In January 2015 at a rare emergency meeting, the WHO admitted it was too late to respond. Dr Margaret Chan, director general, said: “The world, including WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us.”

Continued threat

But the organisation says it made it clear from the start “this was a very serious situation”. There are now proposals to build-up a rapid response team to react more swiftly to future threats. _81805830_ebola_weekly_cases_gra624_v2Case numbers are falling but MSF says the outbreak is not yet over. Overall cases have not declined significantly since January, the charity warns. Liberia recorded its first case in more than two weeks on Friday, dashing hopes the country would soon be declared virus-free. In Guinea, cases are rising again after a dip at the beginning of the year. Some patients in Sierra Leone are are not on lists of known Ebola contacts, suggesting chains of spread are going undetected. Dr Derek Gatherer, at Lancaster University, said: “In retrospect, it is now apparent that the delay from December to March was crucial in the dissemination of the virus to several locations in eastern Guinea and then onto the capital, Conakry, which remains one of the few areas with active transmission.” But until zero cases are recorded in all three worst-affected countries for a period of at least six weeks, the outbreak will not be officially declared over. *BBC]]>

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Sierra Leone's vice president in quarantine for Ebola
March 3, 2015 | 0 Comments

In this photo taken on Sept. 25, 2014, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Yanbo, center left, stands next to Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma, center, and Sierra Leone's Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana, centre right, during the opening ceremony of the China Friendship Hospital catering for Ebola virus patience in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone's vice president has put himself in quarantine following the death from Ebola of one of his security guards. Sam-Sumana voluntarily decided to quarantine himself for 21 days following the death from Ebola last Tuesday Feb. 24, 2015, of one of his security personnel, according to a report issued late Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, by the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation. (AP Photo/ Michael Duff) In this photo taken on Sept. 25, 2014, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Yanbo, center left, stands next to Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma, center, and Sierra Leone’s Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana, centre right, during the opening ceremony of the China Friendship Hospital catering for Ebola virus patience in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone’s vice president has put himself in quarantine following the death from Ebola of one of his security guards. Sam-Sumana voluntarily decided to quarantine himself for 21 days following the death from Ebola last Tuesday Feb. 24, 2015, of one of his security personnel, according to a report issued late Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, by the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation. (AP Photo/ Michael Duff)[/caption]

Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana is set to become acting president later Sunday when President Ernest Bai Koroma leaves Sierra Leone to attend a European Union conference on Ebola in Belgium. Sam-Sumana will carry out his presidential duties from his home.

He is the highest ranking African official to be in quarantine in this Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which is fast approaching a death toll of 10,000. The news highlights the rise of new cases in Sierra Leone, which has experienced a setback in curbing the spread of Ebola.

Sam-Sumana voluntarily decided to quarantine himself for 21 days following the death from Ebola last Tuesday of one of his security personnel.

“This virus has affected thousands of our people and has nearly brought our country to its knees,” said Sam-Sumana in a statement on Sunday. “We all have a collective responsibility to break the chains of transmission by isolating the sick and reporting all known contacts, by not touching the dead … We cannot be complacent. We must work together as a nation to end Ebola now.”

Sam-Sumana’s dramatic quarantine comes as President Ernest Bai Koroma reinstated restrictions on public movement on Saturday, in response the rise in new cases.

Sierra Leone recorded 18 new cases of Ebola in the week ending Saturday, up from 16 new cases last week. This breaks the trend of declining cases in the country.

Many of the new clusters are related to the capital’s fishing industry. In one case a fisherman died at sea in early February and the boat returned his body to shore in Freetown, the capital. Some of the fishermen on the boat then returned to their homes in the shantytown surrounding the fishing wharf, causing new infections.

President Koroma had recently lifted travel restrictions in order to stimulate economic activity, a relaxation criticized as too early by some officials. In response to the rise in new cases, Koroma on Saturday re-imposed restrictions including a nighttime ban on all boats launching from shore and on commercial vehicles off-loading goods in western market areas. Naval vessels will enforce the measures by patrolling the wharves and coastline.

In addition there will be restrictions on ferries and health checkpoints by the police will be strengthened. Public transportation restrictions will be reinstated which limit the numbers of passengers in taxis to two in cars and four at the back of large taxi vans to reduce physical contact between passengers.

The death toll for the current Ebola outbreak has risen to more than 9,600 from more than 23,800 infections mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to World Health Organization figures released Friday.

Liberia, which has had the highest number of deaths, has succeeded in bringing its number of confirmed cases to just a handful and has reopened schools.

Ebola is currently spreading fastest in Sierra Leone. In addition to battling Ebola, Sierra Leone’s government last week launched an investigation after an audit showed that nearly one-third of the money it received to fight Ebola, about $5.7 million, was used without necessary receipts.

*Source AP]]>

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Sierra Leone’s vice president in quarantine for Ebola
March 3, 2015 | 0 Comments

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — Sierra Leone’s vice president has put himself in quarantine following the death from Ebola of one of his security guards.

In this photo taken on Sept. 25, 2014, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Yanbo, center left, stands next to Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma, center, and Sierra Leone's Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana, centre right, during the opening ceremony of the China Friendship Hospital catering for Ebola virus patience in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone's vice president has put himself in quarantine following the death from Ebola of one of his security guards. Sam-Sumana voluntarily decided to quarantine himself for 21 days following the death from Ebola last Tuesday Feb. 24, 2015, of one of his security personnel, according to a report issued late Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, by the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation. (AP Photo/ Michael Duff)

In this photo taken on Sept. 25, 2014, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Yanbo, center left, stands next to Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma, center, and Sierra Leone’s Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana, centre right, during the opening ceremony of the China Friendship Hospital catering for Ebola virus patience in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone’s vice president has put himself in quarantine following the death from Ebola of one of his security guards. Sam-Sumana voluntarily decided to quarantine himself for 21 days following the death from Ebola last Tuesday Feb. 24, 2015, of one of his security personnel, according to a report issued late Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, by the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation. (AP Photo/ Michael Duff)

Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana is set to become acting president later Sunday when President Ernest Bai Koroma leaves Sierra Leone to attend a European Union conference on Ebola in Belgium. Sam-Sumana will carry out his presidential duties from his home.

He is the highest ranking African official to be in quarantine in this Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which is fast approaching a death toll of 10,000. The news highlights the rise of new cases in Sierra Leone, which has experienced a setback in curbing the spread of Ebola.

Sam-Sumana voluntarily decided to quarantine himself for 21 days following the death from Ebola last Tuesday of one of his security personnel.

“This virus has affected thousands of our people and has nearly brought our country to its knees,” said Sam-Sumana in a statement on Sunday. “We all have a collective responsibility to break the chains of transmission by isolating the sick and reporting all known contacts, by not touching the dead … We cannot be complacent. We must work together as a nation to end Ebola now.”

Sam-Sumana’s dramatic quarantine comes as President Ernest Bai Koroma reinstated restrictions on public movement on Saturday, in response the rise in new cases.

Sierra Leone recorded 18 new cases of Ebola in the week ending Saturday, up from 16 new cases last week. This breaks the trend of declining cases in the country.

Many of the new clusters are related to the capital’s fishing industry. In one case a fisherman died at sea in early February and the boat returned his body to shore in Freetown, the capital. Some of the fishermen on the boat then returned to their homes in the shantytown surrounding the fishing wharf, causing new infections.

President Koroma had recently lifted travel restrictions in order to stimulate economic activity, a relaxation criticized as too early by some officials. In response to the rise in new cases, Koroma on Saturday re-imposed restrictions including a nighttime ban on all boats launching from shore and on commercial vehicles off-loading goods in western market areas. Naval vessels will enforce the measures by patrolling the wharves and coastline.

In addition there will be restrictions on ferries and health checkpoints by the police will be strengthened. Public transportation restrictions will be reinstated which limit the numbers of passengers in taxis to two in cars and four at the back of large taxi vans to reduce physical contact between passengers.

The death toll for the current Ebola outbreak has risen to more than 9,600 from more than 23,800 infections mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to World Health Organization figures released Friday.

Liberia, which has had the highest number of deaths, has succeeded in bringing its number of confirmed cases to just a handful and has reopened schools.

Ebola is currently spreading fastest in Sierra Leone. In addition to battling Ebola, Sierra Leone’s government last week launched an investigation after an audit showed that nearly one-third of the money it received to fight Ebola, about $5.7 million, was used without necessary receipts.

*Source AP

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AfDB Board mulls sustained holistic approaches to defeat Ebola
February 18, 2015 | 0 Comments

indexExecutive Directors of the African Development Bank Group on Friday, February 13, 2015 in Abidjan discussed the imperative to eradicate the Ebola Virus Disease, which has affected nearly 23,000 and killed over 9,000 people in West Africa (mainly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia).   Reviewing the Bank’s efforts to contain the disease, the AfDB Board members observed that the disease has in effect exposed the weaknesses of healthcare and related systems in the countries concerned in particular and on the African continent as a whole.   Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks at Nzara, Sudan, and Yambuku near the Ebola River (from which the disease derived its name) in the Democratic Republic of Congo.   Prior to 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) recorded 12 other occurrences and reoccurrences of the disease in Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, South Africa, Uganda, and Congo-Brazzaville.   The current outbreak in West Africa is considered to be the largest and most complex of its kind. It can be traced back to a single case in December 2013 in Guinea, after which it spread across land borders to Sierra Leone and Liberia; and through one traveller to Nigeria, and to Senegal and Mali, where it was eventually contained with no new cases reported.   Although the disease was reported to have substantially declined toward the end of 2014, new outbreaks in previously unaffected areas have been reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone in the past two weeks. The reported resurgence of Ebola is an indication that counters measures are needed to be strengthened underscoring the need for a sector-wide strategy within and across countries to tackle the disease in the medium and long term.   Two presentations made by senior Bank staff provided a graphic picture of the Ebola situation in West Africa, its pervasive impact and the Bank’s leadership role in efforts to contain the disease.   The presentations also illustrated how the most active segment of the labour force, including women (who drive many economic sectors and who run the risk of being infected as primary care-givers), in the countries concerned are being “decimated”.   Agriculture and education are among the worst-hit areas, with economic losses estimated at US $113 million (5.1% of GDP) for Liberia; US $95 million (2.1% of GDP) for Sierra Leona and US $120 million (1.8% of GDP) for Guinea.   Several Board Members commended management and staff for leading the fight to contain Ebola by mobilising a total of US $223 million that complemented national and international efforts in addition to coordinating dialogues and strategies at national and global levels.   They urged management to leverage the AfDB’s convening power to bring other development partners together and coordinate actions that would help build structures to contain the disease definitively. *AFDB]]>

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Sierra Leone loses track of $3.3m in Ebola funds: auditor
February 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

Health workers put on protective equipment at an Ebola treatment centre in Kenama, Sierra Leone, on November 15, 2014 (AFP Photo/Francisco Leong) Health workers put on protective equipment at an Ebola treatment centre in Kenama, Sierra Leone, on November 15, 2014 (AFP Photo/Francisco Leong)[/caption] Freetown (AFP) – Sierra Leone has been criticised in a report presented to its parliament on Friday showing ministers lost track of more than $3 million in internal emergency funds to fight the Ebola virus.

There was no paperwork to support 14 billion leones ($3.3 million, 2.8 million euros) of contracts, while 11 billion leones had incomplete documentation, the country’s Auditor-General Laura Taylor-Pearce said in the report.

There were “lapses in the financial management system in Sierra Leone and these have ultimately resulted in the loss of funds and a reduction in the quality of service delivery in the health sector,” according to the report posted on the Audit Service’s website.

“It is hoped that adequate action will be taken to address issues raised in this report in order to prevent future reoccurrence of this nature,” the report added.

The country of six million has seen almost 11,000 Ebola cases and 3,363 deaths during the epidemic which has raged in West Africa for more than a year.

From May to October 2014, the period covered by the audit, the government spent in excess of 84 billion leones on its Ebola response.

The money came from taxes and donations from institutions and individuals, mostly within Sierra Leone, and the figure doesn’t include cash from the United Nations or charities, the report said.

A government spokesman told reporters this week that the country had lost an estimated $900 million in revenue due to the outbreak.

Around one third of $2.9 billion (2.5 billion euros) pledged by international donors hadn’t reached Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia by the end of 2014, according to an analysis by the BMJ medical journal cited by the Bloomberg news agency.

The United Nations is seeking another $1 billion in aid to contain the outbreak.

“These delays in disbursements of funding may have contributed to spread of the virus and could have increased the financial needs,” Karen Grepin, assistant professor of global health policy at New York University, said in the BMJ report quoted by Bloomberg. *Source AFP/Yahoo]]>

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Roughly $1.8 Billion in Ebola Relief Donations Haven't Made it to Africa
February 5, 2015 | 0 Comments

By * [caption id="attachment_16172" align="alignleft" width="300"] A burial team wearing protective clothing, prepare to enter the home a person suspected of having died of the Ebola virus, in Freetown September 28, 2014. Christopher Black/WHO/Handout via Reuters A burial team wearing protective clothing, prepare to enter the home a person suspected of having died of the Ebola virus, in Freetown September 28, 2014. Christopher Black/WHO/Handout via Reuters[/caption]

Nearly 40 percent of the funding pledged to help fight the Ebola epidemic has not made it to its destination, according to research published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal.

Nations and individuals have pledged a combined $2.89 billion to Ebola relief since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the epidemic a “public health emergency of international concern” in August 2014. But as of December 31, 2014, only $1.09 billion of that $2.89 billion has been actually disbursed.

“Had the resources reached the countries in a timely fashion the epidemic would not have reached the scale it did,” says Karen Grépin, an assistant professor of global health policy at New York University and author on the study. “It’s unlikely it would have gotten so far.”

According to Grépin, it is not unusual for donors to make big pledges and not always see them through. But that only covers part of the gap. The bigger problem, Grépin says, is the lack of an adequate and efficient system for soliciting funds and then disbursing them. She says this has been a latent problem at the WHO for years, but the scale of the Ebola epidemic—and, accordingly, the scale of the need—caught the world off guard.

“This was a new situation for everyone,” Grépin says. “What I found was that donors were quite generous, but the problem was delays. It took a very, very long time for donors to engage. WHO was not calling on donors to make pledges until late in the game.”

Much of the funding that did make it to countries battling Ebola did not arrive until months after the outbreak had become dire, the paper notes. It took until “at least mid-October” for the first $500 million to arrive, and the first $1 billion didn’t show up until December.

Estimating how much money to ask for also proved difficult: In August, when WHO began appealing to donors, the organization estimated $490 million would be required to stop the outbreak. Roughly six weeks later, the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated $1 billion was needed. The latest estimate is $1.5 billion.

“Clearly, international leaders have found it challenging to estimate the financial requirements to tackle this rapidly spreading outbreak,” the paper reads.

Grépin’s research indicates that as of December 31, 2014, another $1.3 billion was tied up as “firm commitment” money, or money that has been pledged and is likely to be disbursed but hasn’t yet. The U.S., by far the biggest donor with $900 million pledged, had either funded or made a “firm committment” on 95 percent of its total pledges, according to the paper. The U.K., the second-biggest donor, pledged $307 million and had paid or made a “firm committment” on 98.4 percent of it by that time. The World Bank, meanwhile, pledged $230 million, but had only funded or made a “firm committment” on 51 percent. The paper notes that the World Bank and other groups have also granted loans to Ebola-stricken countries, which were not taken into account in these figures.

Grépin says enormous political will is needed to change the way the World Health Organization calls the international community into action during epidemics like these. Now, the WHO waits until it declares a public health emergency of international concern before it begins asking the international community to respond, she says. In the case of the Ebola epidemic, the WHO was first alerted to the outbreak in March, but it did not give it that designation until August. Grépin hopes a new mechanism will be put in place to start the cycle of soliciting humanitarian assistance sooner. In addition, the international community needs to see the current Ebola outbreak through to the end.

“Now that the epidemic is dying down, people are looking away,” Grépin says. “If we don’t pay attention to this, we’ll be doing it again in a couple years.” *Source Newsweek]]>

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The Return of an Ebola Survivor
February 5, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Alison Criado-Perez*

Today Mama Sesay went home.

Today Mama Sesay went home.

Having come into our Ebola Management Centre three weeks ago, with a positive blood test, she had slowly become increasingly stronger, her symptoms had gradually disappeared, and her blood test was now negative. Giving her that result was the happy task of our mental health team; and after further counselling and advice from them, she was ready to rejoin her family and community.

In my new position as part of the outreach team that will help to monitor and control the epidemic out in the villages, along with the health promotion team I accompanied Mama Sesay on this great occasion. To survive a disease like Ebola, she was one of the lucky ones. She’d come to us before the disease had become uncontrollable, before the haemorrhagic symptoms had started, before the viral load was so high that we would not have been able to save her. As it was, we were able to help boost her immune system so that she could fight the virus and overcome it.

As we drove Mama Sesay home, I thought with sadness of a young boy who had not been so lucky. He had come into the centre a few days ago, so weak and breathless that he had to be carried on a stretcher out of the ambulance. He gave his age as fourteen, but looked about ten. As he sat weakly in the Triage area for a quick assessment, Robi, the doctor in charge of the running of the centre, with massive Ebola experience, shook his head.

“He won’t make it,” he said sadly. For some reason I had an intuition that this boy would somehow beat the odds. So I was devastated when I came on duty the following morning, looked at the board where all our patients’ numbers were displayed, and couldn’t see his. And then I saw it. With a circle and a cross beside it. Under the heading “Morgue”. Robi had been right and my misplaced optimism wrong.

But now we were on a good news journey. The land-cruiser bumped its way down the dusty, red road, lined with tall grasses and clusters of palm trees. Makeshift barriers, in place since the “lock-down” to prevent people moving from village to village, were raised to let through our vehicle with its well-known emblem. Apart from little children calling out “Opoto!” (white person) as we passed, the villages were quiet, houses locked and shuttered. A sign indicating the primary school pointed towards a building that was silent and empty. Schools have been closed since the start of the academic year, the only teaching being carried out over the radio.

As we neared her village of Yoni Bana, Mama Memuna Sesay let a small smile creep over her face. But her happiness at returning must have been marred by grief: grief for her mother, who had died from Ebola in her home, grief for her pregnant sister who had also died. She had been caring for her mother along with Memuna, and pregnant women are exceptionally vulnerable.

But there was still a large group waiting to greet Mama Sesay as we drove up, and as she stepped from the land-cruiser clapping and cheering erupted. As her three small grandchildren ran up to hug her, she beamed. It was a good moment.

One of our health promoters gave a message in the local Themne language, explaining that Mama Sesay was completely free from Ebola, that she no longer carried the infection and she had a certificate to prove it. He continued by reiterating the general Ebola message of ABC – Avoid Body Contact – and of reminding people that they should call the Alert line if anyone showed any of the symptoms of Ebola. This would go through to the District Command Centre, and a chain of reaction would begin.

After shaking her hand – the first contact I had had with her without being protected by our personal protective equipment – with many waves and cheers we left Mama Sesay, happily back once more in her community, an Ebola Survivor.

*Source MSF

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World's largest Ebola unit dismantled as outbreak retreats
January 29, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Zoom Dosso* [caption id="attachment_15964" align="alignleft" width="300"]A Doctors Without Borders agent prepares to burn pieces of a dismantled tent on January 27, 2015 after the first section of the ELWA III Ebola Management Center in Monrovia was decomissioned (AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso) A Doctors Without Borders agent prepares to burn pieces of a dismantled tent on January 27, 2015 after the first section of the ELWA III Ebola Management Center in Monrovia was decomissioned (AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso)[/caption] Monrovia (AFP) – A potent symbol of the nightmare enveloping west Africa at the height of the Ebola outbreak, the ELWA-3 treatment centre is being dismantled and incinerated bit by bit as the region emerges from catastrophe.

The largest Ebola unit ever built opened in the Liberian capital Monrovia with 120 beds on August 17 but was immediately overwhelmed, with staff forced to turn patients away at its gates, despite more than doubling its capacity.

Five months later to the day it registered no patients at all for the first time, and staff this week marked a drastic retreat of an epidemic which has killed thousands by dismantling and burning the first tent put up at the clinic.

“The number of cases has decreased significantly — we are down to five confirmed cases in Liberia,” said Duncan Bell, the field coordinator in Liberia for Medecins san Frontieres (MSF), the medical aid charity at the forefront of treating victims of the outbreak.

“In line with this development we think it was appropriate to reduce the treatment centre. Today we have 60 beds and at the end of February we hope to go down to 30 beds. This does not mean that we are closing ELWA-3 — we are just reducing the capacity.”

“We still have the capacity to scale up to 120 beds within 24 hours if the need arises,” he added, as staff carried wooden planks and canvas to a large fire nearby.

The worst outbreak of the virus in history has seen Liberia and its neighbours Guinea and Sierra Leone register almost 9,000 deaths in a year.

– ‘Tremendous leap’ –

Soon after it opened, staff at ELWA-3 were struggling to screen new arrivals, care for admitted patients or safely remove dead bodies and transport them to the crematorium.

By the end of the year the centre had taken in 1,826 patients, 1,225 of whom tested positive for Ebola and 498 of whom survived.

But Liberia and its neighbours Sierra Leone and Guinea have reported huge progress on stemming the spread of Ebola since the summer, when the joint tally was several hundred new infections a week.

Liberian Commerce Minister Axel Addy told reporters in Geneva on Monday that 12 of Liberia’s 15 counties had reported no new cases, adding: “We’ve made a tremendous leap.”

He said the crisis had cost Liberia $93 million (82 million euros) in lost revenue, with the key mining sector coming “to a grinding halt”.

Bell said the downsizing of ELWA-3’s capacity went hand in hand with a reduction in workers on the ground, noting that MSF staff had performed an “incredible job”.

MSF said in its latest crisis update on Monday it was treating just two patients in ELWA-3, a huge tented field clinic put up on the grounds of a missionary hospital.

Those were among just over 50 patients at MSF’s eight Ebola units across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The charity’s busiest Ebola management centre is currently the Prince of Wales centre in Freetown, with 30 patients as of January 24.

– ‘We cannot rest easy’ –

Children trickled back to school last week in Guinea, where the Ebola epidemic broke out in December 2013 and teaching is due to resume in neighbouring Liberia next week.

[caption id="attachment_15966" align="alignright" width="300"]Doctors Without Borders staff work to dismantle tents on January 27, 2015 after the first section of the ELWA III Ebola Management Center in Monrovia was decomissioned (AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso) Doctors Without Borders staff work to dismantle tents on January 27, 2015 after the first section of the ELWA III Ebola Management Center in Monrovia was decomissioned (AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso)[/caption]

Classrooms in both countries have been provided with health kits containing chlorine, thermometers and soap, while teams will monitor students to detect possible infections.

Mali, which along with Senegal and Nigeria had a minor Ebola scare, was able last week to declare itself Ebola-free after 42 days without any new cases.

Senegal and Nigeria had previously already done so.

“This decline is an opportunity to focus efforts on addressing the serious weaknesses that remain in the response,” said Brice de la Vingne, MSF Director of Operations.

“We are on the right track, but reaching zero cases will be difficult unless significant improvements are made in alerting new cases and tracing those who have been in contact with them.”

He warned that just a single new case could be enough “to reignite an outbreak”.

“Until everyone who has come into contact with Ebola has been identified, we cannot rest easy,” he said.

The African Union plans to launch an Ebola fund and disease control centre, officials in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa said on Wednesday, as aid agency Oxfam warned leaders needed to keep their promises to boost healthcare systems on the continent.

Oxfam called for a “massive post-Ebola Marshall Plan”, referring to the United States aid package to rebuild Europe after World War II.

*Source AFP/Yahoo  ]]>

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The world is closer to having a real weapon to fight Ebola
January 24, 2015 | 0 Comments

Jen Christensen* imagesThe first doses of the Ebola vaccine were on a commercial flight to West Africa and were expected to arrive on Friday, according to a spokesperson from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) one of the companies that has created the vaccine with the National Institutes of Health.

Another vaccine from Merck and NewLink will also be tested.

“Shipping the vaccine today is a major achievement and shows that we remain on track with the accelerated development of our candidate Ebola vaccine,” Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chairman of global vaccines at GSK said in a company release.

In December, the trial of the vaccine made by Merck and NewLink were stopped after some of the volunteers in the trial had “transient mild” joint pain. After investigating that side effect, scientists concluded it was not a big enough issue to stop the development of the vaccine. No similar side effects were noted in the GSK trial.

There are other Ebola vaccines being tested by companies in the United States and in Russia.

This first shipment will be used, along with a placebo in this first large-scale trial in the next few weeks in Liberia.

“We are expecting to start by the last week in January, but there are some details that need to be ironed out regarding the FDA,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at a press conference.

The tests should begin in the Monrovia area and will involve nearly 30,000 people. People who have had the virus and survived will be excluded from this trial, according to GSK.

The first people to get the vaccine will be health care workers who are some of the population that is most at risk for catching Ebola. That’s because it can be easily transmitted through exposure to bodily fluids. In Liberia there have been 370 cases of health care workers becoming infected with Ebola, 178 of them have died according to the World Health Organization.

The number of newly infected health care workers has declined recently, as has the number of cases in general in Liberia.

In August and September of 2014 the WHO was seeing 300 new confirmed cases per week, versus the 8 new confirmed cases according to this latest incident report.

Another trial in Sierra Leone should start a few weeks after the trials get started in Liberia, according to the NIH.

Sierra Leone has had the largest number of infections of any country with 10,340 reported cases and 3,145 deaths from Ebola. The disease has slowed down according to the WHO, but still there were 117 new confirmed cases according to the latest report.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will work with Sierra Leone’s government to help manage the tests.

The NIH will also soon be testing the therapeutic drug ZMapp as early as next month.

ZMapp is an experimental drug that has been used to help patients who have already been infected by the virus. The drug maker, Mapp Biopharmaceutical ran out of the drug last year, but has been making enough doses for a small human trial.

The number of new Ebola cases in Liberia has been declining, but public health leaders say that there are still “little mini outbreaks” and that “until there is a very last case, (an epidemic) is not over until it is over,” Fauci said.

Since the outbreak began in December 2013, there have been 21,759 infections and 8,668 people have died from Ebola.

*Source CNN

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Ebola crisis: how health workers on west African frontline are paying with their lives
January 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

Monica Mark in Lagos* [caption id="attachment_15428" align="alignleft" width="300"]People at a vigil in Abuja hold a picture of Ameyo Adadevoh, who died after contracting Ebola while treating a Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer. Photograph: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters People at a vigil in Abuja hold a picture of Ameyo Adadevoh, who died after contracting Ebola while treating a Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer. Photograph: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters[/caption] The epidemic has exposed weak healthcare systems and left nearly 3,500 dead, but far more might have died if not for the courage of local health workers The day, 21 July, began like any other Monday for Ameyo Adadevoh, a doctor in Africa’s most populous city, Lagos. In a crowded midtown district, the usual jumble of patients awaited at the hospital where Adadevoh was known to sometimes give free drugs to those who could not afford it. Among them was a patient who had been wheeled in the previous evening, feverish and vomiting, diagnosed with severe malaria. In fact, Liberian-American civil servant Patrick Sawyer had slipped through three layers of security – a quarantine order, and airport checks in Liberia and Nigeria – intended to stem an outbreak in three west African countries. Within 24 hours, he became Nigeria’s Ebola patient zero, the small hospital was forced to become a makeshift Ebola ward, and Adadevoh, an endocrinologist, found herself thrust into the role of stopping the disease’s spread in the continent’s most populous country. That Nigeria has so far emerged relatively unscathed from its brush with Ebola owes much to the quick-thinking staff at an ordinary family clinic, who put themselves in the firing line for six days before the government was ready to relocate him. And, as elsewhere in this epidemic, those on the frontline paid the highest price: four of the seven fatalities were health workers, including Adadevoh. “We tried everything we could. Any way we could get her out, any medicine; everybody was trying,” said her son, Bankole. “The saddest part is that she stayed here in Nigeria to run a health centre people could trust, and it’s the Nigerian system that let her down in the end.” Even in specially equipped isolation wards, the slightest slip-ups – whether through poor equipment or inadequate training – can be deadly. Health authorities in Spain blamed substandard equipment for the infection of a nurse this week in Europe’s first recorded case. But while isolated cases will always be a risk even in advanced healthcare systems, overwhelmed hospitals in west Africa have become places of horror for patients and doctors alike. As the epidemic has exposed weak healthcare systems and leaderships in disarray, leaving nearly 3,500 dead in its wake, far more might have died if not for many local health workers soldiering on armed with little more than conviction and courage. This week, the bodies of Ebola victims were dumped in the streets when burial teams went on strike over pay, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation said. Health ministry spokesman Sidie Yahya Tunis said the situation was “very embarrassing” and that money was available to pay the teams. [caption id="attachment_15429" align="alignright" width="300"] A local paper carries news of the death of Ameyo Adadevoh. Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP A local paper carries news of the death of Ameyo Adadevoh. Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP[/caption] But recently an ambulance driver at Sierra Leone’s colonial-built Connaught hospital offloaded a suspected Ebola patient wearing only a plastic apron for protection. A trail of water flowed out of the open isolation unit door into corridors lined with posters of nurses and doctors who had died of the disease. “We really don’t have the equipment to feel 100% secure, but what else can we do? We need to help these people,” the ambulance driver said as he hosed himself down later. To safely manage a treatment centre of 70 beds, the World Health Organisation estimates that at least 200 medical staff are needed, of whom roughly a fifth should be foreign doctors who provide training and supervision. A belated surge of international aid has included engineers, medical kit and money, but boots on the ground are still lacking. Médecins sans Frontières, the non-governmental organisation leading efforts, said it opened its doors in Liberia for 30 minutes each day just to fill the number of beds vacated by survivors or the dead. Another western health NGO said fewer than 10 US doctors had volunteered, compared with more than 400 during the 2010 Haiti crisis. Meanwhile, the private grief of the families of more than 240 public health workers who have died has also had an alarming public impact: it removes pillars in already fragile health systems, shrinking the pool of talent from which to rebuild devastated healthcare systems when international organisations leave. Nigeria’s success shows how a determined response can nip an epidemic in the bud, despite early official inertia. Home to the village that gave Lassa fever – a haemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola and endemic in the region – its name, Africa’s largest economy did not have a single functional isolation ward when Ebola struck six months into the west African epidemic. So Adadevoh set up aggressive barrier nursing, organised the disinfection of the hospital, and downloaded and distributed Ebola factsheets. For six days, the clinic’s staff effectively ran an Ebola isolation unit with no government help. When Liberian presidential officials called to insist Sawyer be released to attend a conference – he was a high-ranking civil servant – the hospital refused to let him go. And when an isolation ward was finally set up, Adadevoh visited even as other doctors refused to volunteer to staff it. Meanwhile, the authorities’ slow revving into action eventually produced remarkable results. Drawing on a polio-surveillance system, health workers made 18,000 visits to 900 people to check the temperatures of possible contacts. In August, Adadevoh arrived at the isolation centre she had lobbied to improve. Eleven days after she died, Nigeria recorded its last Ebola case. “If anything comes of this, all we want is an improvement in healthcare, especially public healthcare, in Nigeria,” her son said. Elsewhere, the slow trickle of workers to replace exhausted international and local volunteers continues to take a devastating toll. Sierra Leone’s population of 6 million is served by about 120 doctors; those who have succumbed include the only haemorrhagic fever specialist. In Liberia, which has one doctor for every 70,000 people, the chief medical officer placed herself under quarantine after her office assistant died of Ebola this month. [caption id="attachment_15430" align="alignleft" width="300"] Grave diggers prepare for new Ebola victims outside an Ebola treatment centre near Gbarnga, central Liberia. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images Grave diggers prepare for new Ebola victims outside an Ebola treatment centre near Gbarnga, central Liberia. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images[/caption] The outbreak first began in Guinea in December, but it took two months to identify the unfamiliar illness ravaging isolated communities, where there is one doctor per 10,000 inhabitants. By the time Ebola made its blood-soaked landfall in neighbouring Sierra Leone, most health workers at the Kenema government hospital fled. Not so Sheikh Umar Khan. “For more than a week, he was the only doctor in the ward. He was finding it very difficult to get young colleagues to come in to work,” said Mohamed Barrie, a close friend of Khan’s since they met at medical school, and himself just one of three doctors serving a population of almost 600,000 in neighbouring Kono. Barrie last saw Khan at the ministry of health in June, where he was lobbying on behalf of health workers striking over unpaid salaries and dire working conditions. “He was trying to encourage the ministry on what they needed to do to build up trust and get doctors back in,” said Barrie. “It’s not easy in Sierra Leone. You work all these years without even running water in hospitals, and then you see a more junior doctor go into government and suddenly they’re building a house and have a new car.” Sierra Leone ranks 119th out of 177 on Transparency International’s corruption index and abiding suspicion towards officials meant many originally dismissed Ebola as a government hoax to plunder public coffers. Khan could not have foreseen that his own death would mark a turning point, as ordinary citizens finally accepted that a disease that felled one of the country’s most admired doctors had to be real. Ironically, Sierra Leone and Liberia invested the highest percentage of GDP on health in sub-Saharan Africa in 2012, at 15.1% and 15.5% respectively. But trust in the sector had been deeply eroded after a free maternal healthcare programme intended to lift the country from the bottom of global indexes had been beset by doctors and nurses secretly charging money. Last year, 29 top health officials were indicted for siphoning about half a million dollars from a childhood immunisation fund sponsored by the Gates Foundation. A spokesperson from the ministry of health said the indictments were a sign that corruption was being tackled. The government has put in $11.4m (£7m) towards a $26m Ebola fund, the spokesperson added. Still, doctors went on strike again in September after a fourth doctor, Olivet Buck, died in the capital, Freetown. [caption id="attachment_15431" align="alignright" width="300"] File photo of Sheikh Umar Khan, left, at an Ebola centre in Kenema. Khan, a leading doctor praised as a national hero for treating people with the disease, died from Ebola. Photograph: Uncredited/ASSOCIATED PRESS File photo of Sheikh Umar Khan, left, at an Ebola centre in Kenema. Khan, a leading doctor praised as a national hero for treating people with the disease, died from Ebola. Photograph: Uncredited/ASSOCIATED PRESS[/caption] “She was bemoaning that they didn’t have enough gloves, protective suits, that kind of basic thing. She felt the lack of political will to tackle public health issues was a powder keg waiting to explode in one way or the other,” said her brother Albert, a GP based in the UK. “There’s just inertia and a lack of looking into ourselves to find the solutions.” Recently, Buck had told her brother about fuel money for ambulances being diverted. “They were always having to find a way to make do,” he added. Albert’s dream of retiring back in Freetown, surrounded by his childhood memories and family, were shattered by his sister’s death. “She was a hero. She died on the battleground. She and others should be held up – these are quiet heroes,” he said. A week before his death, Khan had called the Barrie family. “This is my fight, this was what I’m trained for, and I need to fight it to the end,” he said. The morning Khan died, he was propped up in bed cheerfully listening to his radio before a presidential visit, said Vandy Cawray, a health official who was at his bedside. After weeks of mounting pressure, President Ernest Bai Koroma was making his first visit to the Ebola-hit east. “The last thing he said to me was, ‘soon I’m going to eat sharwarma again’, because he was getting some appetite back,” Cawray recalled. But Khan died as the president was slowly putting on gloves to enter the isolation ward. *Source theguardian]]>

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Sierra Leone now has means to control Ebola epidemic: UN
January 10, 2015 | 0 Comments

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon visits an Ebola treatment unit in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on December 19, 2014 (AFP Photo/Evan Schneider) UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon visits an Ebola treatment unit in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on December 19, 2014 (AFP Photo/Evan Schneider)[/caption]

Freetown (AFP) – Sierra Leone now has the means to curb the Ebola epidemic, the new head of the UN mission for the fight against the disease and a senior World Health Organization official said.

“Sierra Leone is in much better shape today to control Ebola than it was a few weeks ago,” UN Ebola mission chief Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said at a press conference in the capital Freetown Friday, on his first visit to the west African countries ravaged by the outbreak.

“From everything I’ve seen so far, I am optimistic that Sierra Leone can get by,” he said, though he warned it would require “considerable effort by all”.

WHO deputy head Bruce Aylward said it was his fifth trip to the country and that on the previous four it was clear that Sierra Leone could not stop Ebola.

He said there had been a huge change since his last visit, with beds available and burial teams, but stressed the need to use the new resources effectively. The officials spoke as the government said Pujehun district in the south had become the first in the country to have no new cases registered for 42 days, twice the incubation period of the virus.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the worst since the virus was identified in 1976, has left nearly 8,300 people dead with more than 21,000 cases identified since December of last year, according to WHO figures.

The vast majority of the cases have been confined to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

**Source AFP/Yahoo]]>

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