The Ebola virus outbreak in Sierra Leone has claimed the life of another doctor there as an epidemiologist arrived in Germany for treatment and Canada made plans to pull out three lab workers helping to test for infections.
Dr. Sahr Rogers had been working at a hospital in the eastern town of Kenema when he contracted Ebola, said Sierra Leonean presidential adviser Ibrahim Ben Kargbo.
The death of a doctor is a blow to Sierra Leone, which has two doctors per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. Canada had 2.5 physicians per 1,000 people in 2012, the OECD says.
Rogers is the third top doctor to succumb to Ebola since the outbreak emerged earlier this year.
Canada is bringing home three scientists from Sierra Leone.
"The employees are returning to Canada prior to the end of their deployment as a precautionary measure after people in their hotel complex were confirmed to be infected with the Ebola virus," the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement on Wednesday.
"The employees are in good health, show no signs of illness and the risk that any of them were infected is very low. As an added precaution, the employees will not be travelling on a commercial flight to Canada, will be monitored closely on their journey home and after they return to Canada, and will be in voluntary isolation."
The three Canadians are among the six workers who have withdrawn to Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, Christy Feig, a WHO spokeswoman in West Africa, told CBC News.
Feig said the Canadian government made the call to withdraw its workers in consultation with the WHO. The Canadians helped to identify infected people and send them to a treatment tent.
As the federal government prepares to repatriate its laboratory scientists, staff at a Toronto-based NGO packed essential medicines and equipment to train front-line medical staff in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
"Where people, Canadians, are being sent home from, are not the areas we're going into. That's an isolated situation in a lab," said Rahul Singh, executive director of Global Medic.
WHO said as of Aug. 25, at least 240 health workers have been infected in this outbreak and more than 120 of them have died. One of those is a Senegalese epidemiologist who worked with the UN health agency in Sierra Leone. He arrived on Wednesday in Hamburg, Germany, for treatment. The man’s name and condition haven’t been made public.
The epidemiologist was a surveillance officer, a job that typically involves co-ordinating the outbreak response by liaising with local health workers, lab experts and hospitals but not direct treatment of patients, Feig told the Associated Press.
Scared health workers
WHO is checking to make sure there isn't an infection risk in the living and working environment that had not been uncovered, Feig said.
"The international surge of health workers is extremely important and if something happens, if health workers get infected and it scares off other international health workers from coming, we will be in dire straits," she said.
Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders said six Canadians — four logisticians, one medical doctor and one psychologist — are in Sierra Leone, including at least one in working in Kailahun.
"We have no intention of pulling out of any of our project locations. The only change in staffing numbers is a sustained attempt to scale up in Liberia," a spokeswoman said in an email.
In Liberia's capital of Monrovia, Doctors Without Borders said the outbreak is spreading rapidly. Much of the city's medical system has shut down over fears of the virus, leaving people without health care.
"This is not only an Ebola outbreak — it is a humanitarian emergency, and it needs a full-scale humanitarian response," said Lindis Hurum, the medical aid group's emergency co-ordinator in Monrovia.
People infected with the Ebola virus are thought to be contagious only when they are sick. The virus is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids.
Other developments Wednesday include:
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that two staff members for the Atlanta-based agency have been removed from Kailahun, Sierra Leone, after one was confirmed to have had what is considered "low-risk contact" with a person who contracted the Ebola virus.
- WHO announced that the Democratic Republic of Congo reports an Ebola outbreak as well. The WHO said there have been 24 suspected cases and 13 deaths, including the first in a woman who had butchered a bush animal. Samples have been sent to labs in Kinshasha and Gabon to test for strains of Ebola virus.
- Stefan Schmiedel, a Hamburg-based tropical medicine specialist who is helping to treat the Sengalese health worker, said they would not be using experimental drugs such as ZMapp, which has been given to some Ebola patients including British nurse William Pooley. Pooley was infected in Sierra Leone and was recently sent back to London.
- Air France announced that it temporarily halted its flights to Freetown, Sierra Leone because of the Ebola outbreak there and at the request of the French government. The UN has said the lack of flights is making it increasingly difficult to bring supplies to the Sierra Leona, Guinea and Liberia.
- Anja Wolz, a nurse with Doctors Without Borders in Brussels, wrote a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine describing her experience at an Ebola case-management centre in Kailahun, concluding that the containment effort is "five steps behind," the virus.