Amid an ebola epidemic that Doctors without Borders is calling “out of control,” a senior doctor working to help eradicate the disease has contracted it. Sheik Umar Khan tested positive for ebola while leading the team fighting to find a cure for the disease in Sierra Leone.
The BBC reports that Khan has been admitted to a hospital in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, what the network describes as the “epicenter” of the ebola epidemic. Ebola, a virus for which doctors have yet to find a cure, kills 90% of those that contract it, according to the BBC. More than 630 people have died since February in West Africa, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, out of more than 1,000 diagnoses. While there is no confirmation that the disease has spread outside of that area, fears have grown in Nigeria as a man was hospitalized with ebola-like symptoms. No confirmation has surfaced on his illness, however.
Khan had been explicit in interviews about the fears he had for his life. Explaining that he had installed a mirror in his office specifically to check for any ruptures in his protective medical gear, he told Reuters: “I am afraid for my life, I must say, because I cherish my life… Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by disease. Even with the full protective clothing you put on, you are at risk.”
Sierra Leone’s Health Minister Miatta Kargbo called Khan a “national hero,” lamenting the fall of yet another health worker to the deadly virus. Reuters reports that Khan is far from the only medical worker succumbing to ebola– the World Health Organization has reported that around 100 workers have contracted ebola, about half of which have died in recent months. Three nurses working with Khan recently died following a positive diagnosis of ebola.
Reuters also notes that the infections are beginning to take a toll on the stability of the region. In one dramatic incident, Liberian citizen Edward Deline set fire to the nation’s health ministry last week after his brother died of ebola. “The health (workers) here are not doing enough to fight this virus. They are taking this to be a money making thing while our people are dying,” he shouted at reporters as police took him away.
The World Health Organization is describing the outbreak as the deadliest of its kind in history.