Medical workers in Guinea and Sierra Leone reported 31 new cases of Ebola in the pass week, a significant increase following two months of relative decline that had the United Nations close to declaring the outbreak over. Lax monitoring rules and potential smuggling of Ebola patients past medical officials may be to blame, journalists report.
CNN reports that the World Health Organization has received reports of 14 diagnoses this week in Guinea and Sierra Leone, with 31 cases last week. The number of cases per week has begun accelerating in June– this is the second week more cases have been recorded than the previous week– triggering fears that a second wave of the outbreak may affect the two impoverished nations. “The outbreak is not over and the response efforts must be sustained until we get to zero cases throughout the region and are able to stay at zero for several months,” warned the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response on Thursday.
In addition to concerns regarding the number of people infected, experts are expressing concern at where these cases are being diagnosed. In late May, Guinea began recording cases near its border with Guinea-Bissau, threatening a country with few resources to combat an outbreak of the magnitude its neighbors experienced over the summer. At the same time, Sierra Leone’s Awareness Times began reporting an increase in cases in Kaffu Bullom Chiefdom, Lungi, an area about 17 miles north of the capital, Freetown. Describing Kuffu Bullom as a new “hotspot,” the Awareness Times reported that they had evidence that the new cases were the product of an incident in which “an Ebola patient was sneaked into Kaffu Bullom chiefdom from Kambia district few weeks back and this is what has set off the chain reaction of Ebola infections in Kaffu Bullom.”
The newspaper added that “dozens of armed soldiers” had been deployed to the area to prevent quarantined individuals from leaving their homes or anyone from bringing Ebola patients to the area.
Sierra Leone’s government is attempting to quell a resurgence of risky behaviors, such as prohibited “traditional” burials requiring contact with the bodily fluids of the dead, partly blamed for Ebola returning as a threat, particularly in a region that was near concluding its 21-day test to be proclaimed Ebola-free.
In response to the new cases, the United Nations is convening a new meeting to discuss how to approach the problem. An International Ebola Recovery Conference was scheduled for June 10, which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon described as “an opportunity for the international community to demonstrate its continued shared commitment to the affected countries to get to zero and to stay there.”
Moon has not remarked on whether the United Nations will change its approach to combatting the virus. The same day the Ebola Recovery Conference was set to begin, the UN announced that it would close its Ebola response headquarters in Accra, Ghana. Ghana has not been affected by Ebola, and as such served as a safe haven from which to organize a response in neighboring nations. The UN did note that a small group of medical experts would remain in Ghana to continue organizing the smaller response.
The Ebola virus killed an estimated 11,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria since it surfaced in Guinea in February 2014. Nigeria contained its cases relatively quickly, the product of a Liberian public official traveling to Lagos while exhibiting Ebola symptoms and dying in Nigeria. Liberia has since also been declared Ebola-free, though its medical professionals are concerned that lax hygiene and medical practices keep Liberia at risk for a resurgence.
“The issue of hygiene is a serious problem in this country. Until we can begin to take hygiene seriously, we will continue to live at the mercy of God,” Francis Fordia, Chief Administrator of the Foya-Borma hospital in the country, told the Liberian Observer. He noted that Ebola is not the only threat facing Liberia: “Let us look at the impact that malaria has and the number of people who have died from what we consider a common sickness. This is all because we don’t want to clean our environments. A lot of dirty water sits around where we’re living, with mosquitoes breeding in front and behind the houses. People do not want to cut the grass around their houses and these (behaviors) are unacceptable.”