Another doctor from Sierra Leone has tested positive for Ebola, and an official said Thursday that she would be evacuated abroad for medical treatment.
Dr. Olivette Buck is the fourth doctor from the West African country to contract the disease. The other three have died. Arrangements are being made to send her to another country for better treatment, said Health Ministry spokesman Sidie Yahya Tunis.
So far, only Westerners have been evacuated abroad for treatment.
The worst Ebola outbreak in history has also hit Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal, and has been blamed for more than 2,200 deaths.
'We are at war with an enemy that we don't see,' Liberian Finance Minister Amara Konneh
The disease is taking a particularly heavy toll on health care workers, whose jobs put them at high risk because Ebola is transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of people showing symptoms or dead bodies. More than 135 health workers have died in the outbreak so far, exacerbating shortages of doctors and nurses in countries that had too few medical workers to begin with.
Liberia has been especially hard hit by the outbreak, and Information Minister Lewis Brown told a news conference Thursday that the capital region alone needs 1,000 beds to keep up with the accelerating infection rate.
That squares with a World Health Organization estimate from earlier this week. The UN health agency said the county where Monrovia is located has only 240 beds, with 260 more on the way — only half of what's needed.
The tremendous fear surrounding the disease and the extreme measures used to contain it — like the cordoning off of entire towns for days — has led to sharp criticism of Liberia's government and even calls for the president to step down. But Brown urged Liberians to unite, warning that if they didn't, "this virus will consume all of us."
"We are at war with an enemy that we don't see," Finance Minister Amara Konneh told reporters. "And we have to win the war."
But he said Liberia would be dependent on international assistance to do so. The UN has said at least $600 million is needed to fight Ebola in West Africa, and already several pledges have come in. The United States has spent $100 million so far, with more promised, and Britain has given $40 million.
On Thursday, Cuba's health minister was meeting with the World Health Organization's director to discuss how it could help. Cuba has a relatively advanced medical education system and for decades has dispatched thousands of doctors to the world's developing countries. There were no details on what help it would be providing, but experts say the outbreak is desperately short of health care workers.
Konneh, the finance minister, later told The Associated Press in an interview that the outbreak has ravaged Liberia's already fragile economy, and the government predicts the crisis will more than halve the growth rate this year. He added that the government also hopes the international community will help rebuild Liberia after the crisis passes.
An unrelated Ebola outbreak in Congo is thought to have killed 35 people of the more than 60 sickened, according to the World Health Organization.
American battling Ebola steadily improving
As officials prepare to move Dr. Buck abroad for treatment, doctors in the U.S. are saying that an American aid worker infected with Ebola has responded well to aggressive treatment in the past week. Dr. Phil Smith said Thursday Dr. Rick Sacra received blood transfusions from an Ebola survivor shortly after he arrived at the Nebraska Medical Center last Friday.
The 51-year-old Sacra, who had been working at a hospital in Liberia, also received an experimental drug that doctors refuse to identify. And he has received supportive care including IV fluids.
Smith says doctors wanted to treat Sacra with everything available to give him the best chance of recovering.
The doctors treating Sacra are talking with doctors at Emory University Hospital who have treated three other Ebola patients. They hope to develop to develop new treatment plans based on the experience.