GENEVA — The magnitude of the Ebola outbreak in Africa has been underestimated because families hide infected relatives in their homes, the World Health Organization said Friday.
Because Ebola has no cure, some people infected with the virus preferred to die at home, the WHO said in a statement. This was especially the case in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where stigma and social rejection related to Ebola are massive.
Some West Africans continue to deny Ebola exists, while others believe isolation wards are incubators of the disease, according to the WHO.
In addition, Ebola-affected countries lacked staff, supplies, and equipment, including personal protective equipment, the WHO said. Hospital and diagnostic capacities in the region had been overwhelmed.
Numerous treatment centers and clinics had closed because medical staff had fled out of fear of being infected. In Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, and other areas, virtually all health services had shut down, the WHO said.
New treatment facilities immediately fill with patients, which suggests that many more people have symptoms than are being detected by health workers, according to the WHO.
In Monrovia, an Ebola treatment center with 20 beds, which opened last week, was immediately overwhelmed with more than 70 patients, the WHO said.
There were also “shadow-zones,” the WHO said, villages where residents resist health workers’ investigations or that cannot be accessed due to lack of staff and vehicles. Many rural villages continued to bury corpses without notifying health officials.
Senegal on Friday became the latest African country to restrict travel as a result of the Ebola outbreak, closing its borders to neighboring Guinea.
“This measure also applies to air and maritime borders, to planes, and ships coming from Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia,” Interior Minister Abdoulaye Daouda Diallo was quoted by the Senegalese Press Agency as saying.
Security and defense forces will ensure “rigorously” that the order is implemented, the minister added.
Many African countries have restricted air, land, and water travel in the region, causing a significant impact on the economy and on food security, according to the World Food Programme.
Senegal’s decision comes shortly after South Africa issued a travel ban for non-citizens arriving from Ebola-hit countries.
South Africans coming from Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Nigeria are to be questioned and medically examined if necessary, said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
Meanwhile, the widow of a Liberian-American who brought the first case of Ebola to Nigeria has apologized on behalf of her husband.
Liberian government consultant Patrick Sawyer died from Ebola in late July after traveling from Liberia to Lagos.
Sawyer, who collapsed upon arrival at Lagos’s airport, was ordered by Liberian health workers to remain under observation, after his sister had died of the virus on July 7.
“I believe his actions were that of a desperate man,” said his wife, Decontee Sawyer, who lives in the American city of Minneapolis, Minn., in an email.
She said she shared the pain of those infected with the virus in Nigeria and their families.
Since Patrick Sawyer’s death, four Nigerians have died from Ebola, according to the WHO. Fifteen suspected or confirmed cases have been reported, while about 190 people are under surveillance.
In West Africa, 1,350 people have died from the outbreak so far, according the WHO, and 2,473 suspected or confirmed cases have been reported in the region.
Ebola causes massive hemorrhaging and has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent. It is transmitted through contact with blood and other bodily fluids.
AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso
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