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Sierra Leone, Struggling With Ebola, Passes On Africa Summit


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Arun Rath. An American doctor who was infected with the Ebola virus while working in Liberia has arrived in Atlanta for treatment. The World Health Organization says the deadly virus is out of control in West Africa. More than 700 people have died in four different countries in the region including Sierra Leone. And the president of that country has declared a state of emergency. For more on the situation in Sierra Leone, we reached Umaru Fofana of the BBC World Service in Freetown, the capital. I asked him how the Ebola outbreak and state of emergency are affecting the people there.

UMARU FOFANA: Well, it affects people in a lot of ways. People are really scared. In the last few days since the president of the country proclaimed those measures, details have not been given. But on the face of it, the announcement basically says that all those areas where the outbreak is prevalent will be quarantined. Nobody will be allowed to get in nor get out. And health officials will be around, backed by secret members of the security forces, especially the military and the police. It also means that there are some restrictions of the country's international airports where all passengers will be required to go through body temperature tests.

RATH: So the president of Sierra Leone - President Koroma was supposed to be here in Washington, D.C. at the U.S.-Africa Summit this week, instead decided to stay there and meet with the World Health Organization and other affected countries. What does he hope to get from the WHO?

FOFANA: We understand that the WHO is looking for $100 million to be able to respond to the situation in the region. We are not sure how much has com e in or how much is still being awaited, but it is hoped that the resources that the WHO will be able to put together will be used towards tracing, possibly, the people who move from Ebola affected areas to other parts of the country. It is hoped that once that those tracings are done, there will be some confinement around those areas. And then those who are identified and confirmed to be Ebola cases - I mean, the hope is that they will survive. But if not - if they do not live, then the disease cannot be spread to other parts of the country. But also, they're looking forward to help experts coming in from advanced societies funded by the WHO to be able to embolden the three countries' health care delivery services.

RATH: And the World Health Organization says that the steps to control the disease are relatively simple. But could you talk in more detail about why it's been difficult in practice to actually control?

FOFANA: Well, it has been difficult because it's never been here before. And health workers were not prepared for Ebola when eventually it did emerge. And lots of the health workers have died in all three countries. About in the region of 100 health workers have contracted the virus and at least half that number have died. We have been told by some nurses that the personal protective gear that they have been given is not good enough. They say the clothing is very thin, and they do not feel very much secure in them.

RATH: Is there hope now with the involvement of the international community that this can be contained?

FOFANA: Hopes here are pinned on international intervention. Without that, there is absolute hopelessness here. In the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown, for example, there is no Ebola laboratory present here. When people are suspected to be suffering from the disease, their blood samples have to be taken across from the western area where the capital is to the east of the country, which has only Ebola laboratory where the blood samples are tested. And if they are confirmed to be Ebola positive, then they are taken across to the east where the treatment centers are available. So Freetown is completely not prepared at all. And that is likely attributable to the lack of resources.

RATH: Umaru Fofana, thank you so much for joining us.

FOFANA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.