The Guardian, Monday 10 November 2014 13.32 GMT
British soldiers in Freetown, Sierra Leone British soldiers deliver Ebola-related aid to Freetown. Laboratory results on Sunday for patients showed 40 new cases in the capital. Photograph: Michael Duff/AP
The number of new cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone has jumped dramatically, putting paid to any hopes that the infection rate is slowing.
Official figures released by the minister of health and sanitation show there were 111 new cases registered on Sunday, the highest daily rate since the ministry started publishing figures in August.
There were 45 new cases the day before, including 24 in the capital, Freetown. Laboratory results for patients in Freetown, which include the new British army-built Ebola hospital, showed 40 new cases on Sunday.
There was also a spike in the number of cases in Port Loko, a district north of Freetown where there is still no treatment centre and where, until recently, corpses were left lying on verandahs, in hospitals and in houses for days before collection.
The figures come days after warnings by the UN that Ebola cases in Sierra Leone are being underreported by up to 50%.
It is thought that some patients are still not turning up to hospital over fears that they will be turned away because there are no beds or that they will die isolated from their families.
Sierra Leone’s deadliest day was 5 October, when 121 deaths were recorded from Ebola. Daily statistics compiled by Sierra Leone’s Emergency Operations Centre for that day showed 81 new cases of the virus, fewer than those registered on Sunday.
With 596 confirmed cases and still no treatment centre, the rise in the number of cases in Port Loko will cause deep concern among medical aid agencies such as Médecins sans Frontières, International Medical Corps and the Red Cross, who have been pleading for more beds and resources since the beginning of August. The latest figures make Port Loko the third most affected of the 14 districts in the country.
IMC is constructing a 100-bed Ebola treatment centre in Port Loko but it will not be open until the end of November, by which time the World Health Organisation has warned there may be a need for more than 4,000 beds across the country, which has fewer than 500 at the moment.
In the district of Koinadugu, where an infection chain started three weeks ago when a man carrying the virus returned to the remote chiefdom of Niene, the Red Cross on Monday said the number of dead had increased in recent days. Last week it reported that as many as 30 had died, but the number is now closer to 50, a spokesman in Freetown said.
Koinadugu had prided itself on being the only district in Sierra Leone to have been Ebola-free after local chiefs imposed a quarantine, barring farmers and traders travelling to neighbouring districts or over the border to Guinea.
John Marah, head of the local Koinadugu Red Cross team, said about 250 people who are being monitored after contact with the dead of the sick were in quarantine and food was now an issue. “There is no supply of rice there at the moment. Farmers cannot go to their farms and the World Food Programme is not getting them enough supplies,” he said.
The area is particular challenging because of the mountaineous terrain. The nearest big town, Kabala, is three hours away, while the nearest Ebola treatment centre is between five and eight hours by road.
The rise in figures in Sierra Leone come as medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres warns that the international aid response much not get complacent in Liberia, where the infection rate appears to be slowing.
MSF is witnessing a decline in patients at its hospitals with two hundred empty beds in its 250-bed Monrovia hospital and no new patients in its Foya hospital in the north of the country.
Fasil Tezera, MSF head of operations in Liberia said that the international response was finally getting off the ground in the country with financial support starting to flow into the country, but warned that priority must be given to a “flexible approach” that allows “a rapid response to new outbreaks”.
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