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Ebola cases on the rise as Guinean villagers attack, kill aid team

A local market area sits empty as Sierra Leone enforces a three-day lock-down in a attempt to fight the Ebola virus in Freetown. Associated Press/Photo Michael Duff

Ebola cases on the rise as Guinean villagers attack, kill aid team

More than 700 new Ebola cases have surfaced in the last week alone—a rate increase of 40 percent from the beginning of September—as violence and death due to the disease spread in West Africa.

The World Health Organization now says 5,300 people have contracted the disease in West Africa, and 2,600 have died. Recorded cases stood about 500 per week just three weeks ago, and nearly half of all recorded cases in the nine-month epidemic have occurred in those three weeks.

The most deaths continue to occur in Liberia, but the situation is dire in Sierra Leone and Guinea as well. A pastor was reportedly among eight people killed Tuesday in rural Guinea when fearful villagers turned on a group of disinfection and awareness workers with knives and rocks. Health officials and journalists are also among the dead, and only the son of a local official escaped, the government said.

The Guinean government confirmed Friday it had arrested six people in connection with the incident. The murders mark the first fatalities from the sporadic violence and riots that have sprouted since the virus began to spread. Many people have become increasingly suspicious of the government and of foreigners, especially as governments enforce quarantines to help contain the outbreak.

Sierra Leone on Friday began a mandatory three-day lockdown of the entire country in an attempt to battle the disease. In theory, now thousands of health workers can go door-to-door looking for people with Ebola who might be avoiding the health centers often seen as little more than places to die. But beds remain scarce, and international health workers say the plan could backfire if search parties find too many new cases.

Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma pleaded with the nation late Thursday to abide by the lockdown order, promising that health workers would hand out soap and mark visited houses with a sticker. “The survival and dignity of each and every Sierra Leonean is at stake. All what we have toiled for as a people is at stake. This is a fight for each and every one of us. This is a fight for this land that we love,” Koroma said.

But a boost of international aid is coming. U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced the United States would send 3,000 troops and tens of thousands of pieces of equipment to support and train responders in West Africa. The first C-17 U.S. military aircraft loaded with equipment landed Thursday.

Samaritan’s Purse doctor and Ebola survivor Kent Brantly urged the federal government at a Senate hearing Tuesday to send the aid as quickly as possible. “Many have used the analogy of a fire burning out of control to describe this unprecedented Ebola outbreak. Indeed it is a fire—a fire straight from the pit of hell,” Brantly told lawmakers.

Ishmael Alfred Charles, a Sierra Leonean relief worker and manager, tearfully described reassuring his 10-year-old daughter he would not abandon the family to stay in the United States, away from Ebola.

“I fear this is going to be worse than the war,” said Charles, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war of the 1990s.

A Doctors Without Borders nurse now in France is receiving experimental drugs, and British nurse and survivor William Pooley reportedly came to the United States this week to donate blood to the still-unnamed American undergoing treatment in Atlanta. Missionary doctor Rick Sacra continues to recover at a Nebraska hospital, and his wife said Monday he was well enough to get increasingly bored.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.


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