FREETOWN/MONROVIA – Health workers have gone on strike at a major state-run Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone, hospital staffers said on Saturday, a further blow to efforts to contain the deadly virus.
Faced with the worst Ebola outbreak in history, West African governments have struggled to find an effective response. More than 1,550 people have died from the hemorrhagic fever since it was first detected in the forests of Guinea in March.
Transmitted through the blood, sweat and vomit of the sick, Ebola has spread quickly among health care workers, who often lack the equipment to protect themselves from the virus.
Ishmael Mehemoh, chief supervisor at the Kenema clinic in eastern Sierra Leone, said the facility has only one stretcher. He said the stretcher, which is broken, is used to carry both patients and corpses, raising the risk of infection.
In a further sign of strained resources, nurses and members of the burial team at Kenema said the government had stopped paying their wages of $50 a week.
There is only one other Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone, in Kailahun, and the World Health Organization shut the laboratory there this past week and withdrew staff members after one of its health workers caught the virus there.
So far more than 120 health workers have died from the virus across the region. In Kenema alone, 26 staff members have already died from Ebola following the death of physician Dr. Sahr Rogers.
In neighboring Liberia, where infection rates are highest, crowds sang and danced in the streets of a seaside neighborhood on Saturday as the government lifted quarantine measures.
In mid-August, residents of the impoverished seaside district of West Point in Monrovia were forcibly cut off from the rest of the capital after a crowd attacked an Ebola center there, allowing the sick to flee.
The quarantine sparked protests and security forces responded with tear gas and bullets, killing a teenaged boy.
But at dawn on Saturday, the community woke up to find the soldiers and barricades gone.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a U.S.-educated Nobel Peace Prize winner, has sought to quell criticism of the government’s response by issuing orders threatening officials with dismissal for failing to report for work or for fleeing the country, and has ordered an investigation into the West Point shooting.
Liberia plans to build five new Ebola treatment centers, each with capacity for 100 beds, government and health officials said on Saturday.
Two African doctors infected with Ebola were released from a hospital in Monrovia on Saturday after being treated with the experimental drug ZMapp, said Rev. John Sumo of the Liberian health ministry.
A third doctor who was given the treatment died this past week.