Ebola patients in Sierra Leone abandon hospitals in droves

Saturday June 28 2014

A nurse with ‘Doctors without Borders’ examines a patient at a centre for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, Guinea. The disease has since spread to neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia. PHOTO | SEYLLOU

A nurse with ‘Doctors without Borders’ examines a patient at a centre for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, Guinea. The disease has since spread to neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia. PHOTO | SEYLLOU AFP

By KEMO CHAM, Nation Correspondent in Freetown
More by this Author

Freetown, Sierra Leone

The Sierra Leone government has warned that anyone who harbours Ebola patients faces prosecution after it emerged patients admitted at the country’s leading Ebola treatment centre were once again forcefully discharging themselves.

This followed widespread rumours that medications administered by health officials were the causes of the deadly virus.

An unspecified number of patients have gone into hiding, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation said Friday, warning of the imminent danger of mass infection as a consequence.

As of Friday, 181 confirmed Ebola cases have been recorded, with 53 fatalities.

When the outbreak was first confirmed, the Health ministry had a problem containing it because of reluctance by locals to cooperate. Health personnel were pelted and driven away.

But the hostilities subsided when the government drafted law makers and other local politicians from the opposition dominated eastern region most affected by the outbreak.

However, the sudden rise of cases and fatalities across the country recently has rekindled feelings of greater uncertainty, so much so that even medical personnel have been reported abandoning their posts after witnessing their colleagues dying.

DISPERSE CROWDS

On Friday, state broadcaster SLBC reported that police used tear gas to disperse crowds who surrounded the Kenema government hospital, also in the east of the country, demanding the discharge of their family members.

“Any person who obstructs or interferes with the performance of the medical team in any of the Ebola observation and treatment centres would be guilty of an offence and liable to punishment,” the health ministry warned.

The regional death toll, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) figures, stands at 635, with 399 deaths.

This makes the West African outbreak the largest in terms of number of infections and geographical coverage, it said.

The West African outbreak was first confirmed in Guinea in February before engulfing neighbouring Liberia and then lately Sierra Leone.

WHO said the three governments had appeared to relax when the outbreak slowed in April which gave way for its sudden spike to current levels.

The world health body has therefore categorised the epidemic as a sub regional crisis and warned neighbouring countries of a possible spillover. “We want other countries in West Africa to be ready,” said Pierre Formenty, WHO Ebola specialist.

He singled out Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal and Guinea Bissau as particularly at risk because of their proximity.