x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor dies amid fears over its threat

Dr Omar Khan was a 'national hero', praised vy Sierra Leone's health minister for his 'tremendous sacrifice' in working to save the lives of others.

FREETOWN // A doctor in charge of an Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone has become another victim of the deadly virus, said the country’s health chief.

Doctor Omar Khan died at 2:00pm on Tuesday, according to the head of Sierra Leone’s health services, Brima Kargbo.

Khan was admitted last week into an anti-Ebola treatment facility run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) after testing positive for the virus.

He had been in charge of the main Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, around 320 kilometres east of the capital Freetown. Three nurses at the facility also died of the disease.

Health minister Miatta Kargbo called Khan a “national hero”, praising his “tremendous sacrifice” in working to save the lives of others.

MSF said that the crisis gripping Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone would only worsen and could not rule out its spread to other countries.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation has met global health officials on enacting measures to halt the spread of the disease, as the Pan-African airline ASKY suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Meanwhile, the European Union has allocated an extra €2 million (Dh10m) to fight the outbreak, bringing total EU funding to €3.9m.

“The level of contamination on the ground is extremely worrying and we need to scale up our action before many more lives are lost,” said Kristalina Georgieva, the EU humanitarian aid commissioner.

The bloc has deployed experts to help victims and try to limit contagion, but Ms Georgieva has called for a “sustained effort from the international community to help West Africa deal with this menace”.

In Britain, the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, was to chair a meeting of the government’s crisis management committee to assess the situation.

David Cameron, the prime minister, regarded it as a very serious threat, said Mr Hammond.

“We are very much focused on it as a new and emerging threat which we need to deal with.”

One person in England has been tested for the disease but the test proved negative.

Bart Janssens, MSF’s director of operations, said there was no overarching vision of how to tackle the outbreak.

“This epidemic is unprecedented, absolutely out of control and the situation can only get worse, because it is still spreading, above all in Liberia and Sierra Leone, in some very important hot spots,” he said.

“If the situation does not improve fairly quickly, there is a real risk of new countries being affected. That is certainly not ruled out, but it is difficult to predict, because we have never known such an epidemic.”

Since March, there have been 1,201 cases of Ebola and 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the United States centres for disease control and prevention.

Ebola can kill victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.

“We are lacking an overarching view to understand where the chief problems are,” said Mr Janssens. “It’s up to the World Health Organisation and to the government to deploy and organise the capacity and effort required to start to control this epidemic.”

Togo-based Pan-African airline ASKY, which serves 20 destinations, said it halted all flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone following the death of a passenger from the virus after they had travelled from Liberia to Nigeria via Togo.

According to the ministry’s latest figures released Tuesday, 489 cases of Ebola have been recorded in Sierra Leone and 159 people have died.

Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Koroma has this week visited the towns of Kenema and Kailahun to check on the country’s response to the epidemic and meet patients and medical personnel.

Amid growing concern over the spread of the virus, activists have launched a campaign urging Koroma to cancel an August trip to a US-Africa summit in Washington to deal with the crisis.

Ebola is a form of haemorrhagic fever which is deadly in up to 90 per cent of cases.

In addition to Sierra Leone, the virus has swept through Guinea and Liberia and hit Nigeria, leaving at least 670 people dead across the region.

* Agence France-Presse