S Leone Ebola chief blasts ambulance attacks

2014-10-30 05:00


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Freetown - The new head of Sierra Leone's Ebola response unit on Wednesday slammed criminals who are undermining the fight against the deadly virus by attacking ambulances or burial teams.

Retired army major Palo Conteh, head of the National Ebola Response Centre, said civil unrest and disobedience would make it impossible to beat the outbreak which has already killed almost 1 200 in the country.

"We must not attack ambulances, we must not attack burial teams. We must not erect road blocks because our loved ones are not picked up speedily," the former defence minister said in his first news conference in the post.

Sierra Leonean media have reported numerous episodes of unrest since President Ernest Bai Koroma announced a state of emergency in July.

In the latest incident, witnesses saw an ambulance carrying suspected Ebola patients crash into a ditch in the northwestern district of Port Loko after a mob pelted it with stones on Monday.

The attack came days after two people were killed in the eastern town of Koidu in a riot started when health workers tried to take a blood sample from an elderly woman.

Ebola is spread through contact with bodily fluids and experts have identified traditional funeral rites such as washing victims as a mode of transmission.

Among a raft of emergency measures imposed by Koroma, Sierra Leoneans have been ordered to report Ebola deaths to the authorities or risk prosecution.

But Conteh said people were still hiding the bodies of loved ones from specialist disposal teams, fearful of the stigma associated with an Ebola death in the family.

"People still wash and bury corpses at night. If we don't change our attitude, we are wasting our time," he told reporters in the capital Freetown.

Authorities deem the burial of an Ebola victim "safe" it has been carried out by specialist disposal teams within 24 hours of being reported.

During a visit this week, Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, congratulated Sierra Leone on having achieved its first day of 100% safe burials in the Western Area, the region encompassing Freetown.

The current Ebola outbreak has left almost 5 000 dead, nearly all in west Africa.

Read more on:    sierra leone  |  western africa  |  ebola

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