Sierra Leone's Chief Ebola Doctor Contracts the Virus
By Umaru Fofana
FREETOWN (Reuters) - The head doctor fighting an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Sierra Leone has himself caught the disease, one of a growing list of medical workers infected while battling to halt its spread across West Africa.
Ebola has killed 632 people across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since an outbreak began in February, putting strain on a string of weak health systems facing one of the world’s deadliest diseases despite waves of international help.
In a sign of the growing frustrations with the failure of region’s governments to tackle the outbreak, a Liberian whose brother died from the disease set fire to the Health Ministry in protest on Wednesday.
A statement from the president’s office said 39-year-old Sheik Umar Khan, a Sierra Leonean virologist credited with treating more than 100 Ebola victims, had been transferred to a treatment ward run by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres.
A source at the ward confirmed that the doctor was alive and receiving treatment, but gave no details of his condition.
Khan has been hailed a “national hero” by the Health Ministry for his efforts to lead the fight against an outbreak that has killed 206 people in the West African nation.
There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola, which can kill up to 90 percent of those infected, although the mortality rate of the current outbreak is around 60 percent.
It was not immediately clear how Khan had caught the virus. His colleagues told Reuters that he was always meticulous with protection, wearing overalls, mask, gloves and special footwear. Three days ago, three nurses working in the same Ebola treatment center alongside Khan died from the disease.
Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said around 100 health workers had been infected by Ebola in the three countries, with 50 of them dying.