FREETOWN/ACCRA. — A British charity worker infected by the deadly Ebola virus sweeping through West Africa is to be flown home in a desperate bid to save his life.
The man, the first Briton to contract the disease outside the laboratory, will be transported by the RAF from Sierra Leone, where 392 people are known to have died of the virus this year. The evacuation was expected to take place yesterday or today.
The decision to fly him back was taken yesterday after a top-level meeting during which ministers concluded there was “no risk” that the repatriation would trigger an outbreak in the UK.
The World Health Organisation estimates that the current Ebola epidemic — the world’s worst ever with 1 427 documented deaths – will likely take six to nine months to halt.
Some aid organisations, including medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, have warned that the outbreak, which began in Guinea before spreading to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, is now out of control.
The WHO conceded on Friday that the hiding of victims and the existence of “shadow zones” where medics cannot go has concealed the true scale of the epidemic.
Ebola, which is passed on by direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected persons, strikes hardest at healthcare providers and caregivers who work closely with those infected. And dozens of local doctors and nurses have died from the virus in recent months.
Two American aid workers, who contracted Ebola in neighbouring Liberia and were then evacuated, recovered from the disease and were released from a hospital in the United States last week.
Fear, stigma and denial have led many families to hide their infected loved ones from health officials. In other instances, patients have been forcibly removed from treatment facilities and isolation centres, creating the risk of the disease’s further spread.
Under-reporting of Ebola cases has been a problem particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone, currently the two countries hardest hit by the virus.
Lawmakers in Sierra Leone on Friday voted overwhelmingly in favour of making the harbouring of those infected with Ebola a crime carrying a punishment of two years in prison.
“The new regulation will provide for summary trial, meaning trial by a magistrate court alone,” Justice Minister Frank Kargbo told Reuters.
As the outbreak has spread across borders from its initial epicentre, governments in the region have introduced increasingly strict travel restrictions.
The government of Cote d’lvoire announced late on Friday that it had closed its land borders Guinea and Liberia to try to prevent the virus from crossing onto its territory.
Cote d’lvoire, French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy and the world’s top cocoa producer, had previously imposed a ban on flights to and from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Liberia’s Nimba County, which shares a border with Cote d’lvoire, has seen the number of Ebola cases balloon in recent weeks. According to Moses Massaquoi, the head of Ebola case management at Liberia’s health ministry, 65 cases including 25 confirmed patients have now been reported there.
“The number of cases in Nimba has spiked recently and it is now an area of concern,” Massaquoi told Reuters.
The WHO does not recommend travel or trade restrictions for countries affected by Ebola, saying such measures could heighten food and supply shortages. But residents of Cote d’lvoire’s commercial capital Abidjan voiced support for the government’s decision.
“I don’t think simply closing the border is enough. We need to go even further,” said Romaric Kouadio, a laboratory technician.
The Philippines on Saturday ordered 115 soldiers to return home from peacekeeping operations in Liberia due to the outbreak there. — Reuters/Xinhua.