Sierra Leone buries 'hero' doctor who saved over 100 Ebola patients, but died of disease

Sheik Umar Khan, head doctor fighting the deadly tropical virus Ebola in Sierra Leone, poses for a picture in Freetown on June 25, 2014. Sierra Leone on Thursday, July 31, buried a doctor it hailed as a "national hero" for saving the lives of mo
Sheik Umar Khan, head doctor fighting the deadly tropical virus Ebola in Sierra Leone, poses for a picture in Freetown on June 25, 2014. Sierra Leone on Thursday, July 31, buried a doctor it hailed as a "national hero" for saving the lives of more than 100 Ebola patients before succumbing himself to the killer tropical disease. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

KENEMA, Sierra Leone (AFP) - Sierra Leone on Thursday buried a doctor it hailed as a "national hero" for saving the lives of more than 100 Ebola patients before succumbing himself to the killer tropical disease.

Dr Umar Khan, 43, the west African nation's sole virologist, was at the forefront of his country's fight against the epidemic, which has seen more than 700 deaths in Sierra Leone and its west African neighbours.

He was laid to rest in the eastern town of Kenema, where he had spent much of his working life, in a Muslim ceremony attended by family, friends, local dignitaries, aid workers and health officials.

"He was committed and dedicated in the quest to save the lives of his compatriots," Health Minister Miatta Kargbo told the mourners. "For the short time we interacted, he constantly described Ebola as a war that all Sierra Leoneans should join to fight against or otherwise it would be devastating."

Local media in Kenema described a "grief-laden" atmosphere weighing heavily on the town, with offices closed and markets empty.

President Ernest Koroma declared Dr Khan a "national hero" following the medic's death on Tuesday, and named a research centre in Kenema in his memory.

"The late doctor saved the lives of more than 100 patients before succumbing to the deadly ebola disease himself," Mr Koroma said in a statement ahead of the funeral, which he did not attend.

Medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders described Dr Khan as "an extremely determined and courageous doctor who cared deeply for his patients".

"His work and dedication have been greatly appreciated by the medical community in Sierra Leone for many years," it said.