Monrovia (AFP) – A U.S. television network prepared Friday to evacuate a cameraman who contracted Ebola in Liberia, as the UN’s pointman flew to Sierra Leone, calling the epidemic the world’s “highest priority”.
Ashoka Mukpo, 33, who was working as a freelancer for NBC news, discovered he was running a fever on Wednesday, his network said, and is in quarantine in a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) treatment centre.
Hired by NBC only three days ago, he is the fourth American to contract Ebola in Liberia.
“The doctors are optimistic about his prognosis,” Mukpo’s father Mitchell Levy said in a message to family and friends quoted by NBC, adding that his son had worked on humanitarian projects in Liberia for several years.
By far the most deadly epidemic of Ebola on record has spread into five west African countries since the start of the year, infecting more than 7,000 people and killing about half of them.
The virus, spread through infected bodily fluids, can only be transmitted when a patient is experiencing the symptoms — severe fever, vomiting, diarrhea and, in some cases, massive internal hemorrhaging and external bleeding.
Anthony Banbury, head of the UN Mission on Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), traveled to Sierra Leone on Friday for the second leg of a tour of the three hardest-hit nations.
“The only way we will end this crisis is if we end every single last case of Ebola so there is no more risk of transmission to anyone, and when that’s accomplished, UNMEER will go home,” he told journalists on Thursday in the Liberian capital Freetown.
The UN envoy said he was intent on contributing to “the highest priority for the international community — for the whole world, not just the United Nations”.
The World Health Organization said in its latest situation update there was still a “significant shortfall” in capacity in west Africa, with 1,500 more beds needed in Liberia and 450 in Sierra Leone.
Around 160 health professionals pledged by Cuba to Sierra Leone arrived Thursday, reported an AFP correspondent at the airport near Freetown.
Britain has pledged £120 million ($190 million, 150 million euros) to help build an estimated 700 treatment beds, fund new community treatment centers, support existing public health services and support aid agencies in Sierra Leone.
U.S. health officials meanwhile were monitoring 100 people in Texas who had potential contact with a Liberian man diagnosed with Ebola. Four family members were also ordered to stay home.
The man — the first person to be diagnosed with the deadly disease on U.S. soil — flew from Liberia and arrived in Texas on September 20 to visit family.
NBC News president Deborah Turness said the rest of the crew working with Mupko in Liberia were being closely monitored but were showing no symptoms.
“However, in an abundance of caution, we will fly them back on a private charter flight and then they will place themselves under quarantine in the United States for 21 days — which is at the most conservative end of the spectrum of medical guidance.”
Save the Children warned that five people are being infected with Ebola every hour in Sierra Leone and demand for treatment beds is far outstripping supply.
If the current “terrifying” rate of infection continues, ten people will be infected every hour with the virus in Sierra Leone by the end of October, the London-based charity warned.
The extent of fear which the epidemic is engendering in the country was underlined on Friday when it emerged a middle-aged man in the quarantined city of Makeni had died after setting himself alight, fearing his family had infected him with Ebola.
Neighbors said the man became depressed after his wife and daughter were taken for Ebola tests at a holding center.
“The man was heard saying he’d rather die than hear any news of his family being suspected of Ebola,” one told AFP.
“He doused himself with petrol and then struck a match to be engulfed in fire.”
By the time firefighters arrived he had been incinerated, hospital sources said.
And Germany said on Friday a Ugandan doctor who had contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone while working for an Italian non-governmental organisation had been hospitalized in Frankfurt, the second Ebola patient to be treated in the country.
AFP Photo/Pascal Guyot