FREETOWN (AFP) - A Cuban doctor infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone became the latest of nearly 600 health workers to have contracted the virus, amid fresh warnings that the fight against the disease is far from over.
Cuba has played a large role in intensifying global efforts to fight the outbreak in the three worst-hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, sending around 250 nurses and doctors to the region with another 450 to come.
Felix Baez Sarria, one of about 165 Cuban medics in Sierra Leone, is being treated in a Red Cross centre near Freetown, his boss told AFP on Wednesday.
“He’s not critical, he’s doing well, in a good condition,” Jorge Delgado Butillo said.
“The most important thing now is to get him evacuated to Geneva pretty soon,” he said, adding that the rest of the Cuban team had not been discouraged by the infection of their 43-year-old colleague.
“We are going to continue to work, we’re not scared,” Butillo said.
Cuba said the doctor was being treated by British medics.
In a message to his father, Sarria’s son Alejandro Baez said: “Be strong Dad, everything’s going to be fine. All Cuba’s pulling for you,” according to the pro-government news website Cubasi.
The worst ever outbreak of Ebola has killed almost 5,200 people, mostly in west Africa, but the international community, particularly the World Health Organization, has come under fire for its slow response.
U2 frontman Bono and Oscar-winning actors Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman led an appeal Wednesday for the world to step up its fight against Ebola, releasing a video in deliberate silence to decry early inaction.
According to WHO figures, of the 570 healthcare workers known to have contracted the virus, 324 have died.
Lack of toilets
The three countries at the epicentre of the outbreak are among the world’s poorest, with sketchy healthcare and infrastructure facilities that were ravaged by years of inter-linked civil conflicts.
The lack of toilets in the region was highlighted by the United Nations as a possible cause of the spread of the highly contagious haemorrhagic disease.
Half the population of Liberia, the country worst hit by the epidemic, have no access to toilets, while in Sierra Leone nearly a third of people live without latrines, a new UN report said.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the fight against Ebola was going well, citing a big drop in the number of new infections during a tour of an Ebola Treatment Unit or ETU.
“I feel very good. The people are working well – doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers – they are all very vigilant and very efficient; more importantly, most of the ETUs don’t have patients,” she added.
Her office said the objective was to have “zero new cases by Christmas”.
The World Bank meanwhile said nearly half the workforce in Liberia was no longer working since the onset of the epidemic. The bank said the hardest-hit were the self-employed working in markets, where activity has dried up because of Ebola fears.
In Mali, which has recorded five Ebola deaths, 413 people were being tracked for signs of the disease and only one – a doctor at a hospital where a Guinean imam had died of the disease – has tested positive, the government said.
The oil-rich west African country of Equatorial Guinea meanwhile hired 50 Cuban doctors to help prevent an Ebola outbreak during football’s Africa Cup of Nations next year, an official said.
The original hosts, Morocco, refused to host the competition because it feared Ebola could be transmitted by visiting supporters. When it requested a postponement, it was stripped of the tournament and thrown out of the next two.
‘Danger for entire world’
The fight against Ebola is far from being won despite the encouraging news from Liberia, world leaders have warned.
“As long as the outbreak continues to rage in the three countries in west Africa – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – this is still going to be a danger – not just for America, but for the entire world,” US President Barack Obama said.
“We are nowhere near out of the woods yet in West Africa,” he said.
The worldwide focus on Ebola has meanwhile worried the British monarch who fears that malaria – which can also be fatal – would be ignored.
“After Ebola we will still have malaria,” Queen Elizabeth II said, according to David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“She’s afraid that malaria will have a comeback because of the fact people are not paying enough attention to it,” he said.