International health organizations working to combat the breakneck pace at which the Ebola virus is spreading in west Africa are warning that, in Sierra Leone, the number of cases has been doubling every few weeks, with five people contracting the virus every hour.
These statistics come from Save the Children, a group working to bring attention to the specific problems posed by the virus in the affected nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. According to the BBC, Save the Children’s Chief Executive Justin Forsyth is warning that the rate of five new infections per hour could rise to as many as twice that before the virus is contained due to the woeful conditions of Sierra Leone’s medical infrastructure. For scale: while there are only 327 hospital beds in all of Sierra Leone, organizations recorded 765 new cases last week alone.
The number of cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone is believed to be chronically underreported, and the government seems to have little control in tracking the movement of even those cases that are on the record. The nation’s largest newspaper, the Awareness Times, notes that there are 1,000 more cases of Ebola than the total number of victims dying of the disease and the hospitalized cases. This means that more than 1,000 people carrying the Ebola virus are unaccounted for. The owner of the newspaper, Dr. Sylvia Blyden, resigned from her government post as special executive assistant in the aftermath of this news story.
Experts warn that Ebola cases remain severely underreported due to a lack of resources to find all those infected, as well as a reluctance by many in the affected communities to cooperate with authorities, fearing their loved ones will be killed if taken to the hospital. Even without taking this into consideration, the numbers are staggering: 7,178 cases of Ebola have been confirmed, and more than three thousand have died of the disease.
Liberia leads the pack with 1,998 cases, and there, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has said she has begun to see signs of some stabilization in the number of cases. Speaking to France 24, President Sirleaf said the numbers appeared to be slowing down. “We are beginning to see stabilisation,” she said. “Even in Monrovia which has been hit the hardest, we are beginning to see a slowdown in the numbers of people reporting to a treatment centre.”
A “slowdown” in the number of people seeking medical attention may be a sign that the virus is stabilizing, but it may also be a sign that residents are increasingly fearful that Western medical aid is harmful to them, or that, as is widely believed in many areas, the medical treatment centers are actually what kill Ebola patients, and not Ebola itself. Authorities in affected countries now await several promised packages of aid from countries around the world and private charities, hoping that an increase in the number of simple medical goods, such as beds and gloves, will help contain the virus.