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Africa

Liberia overwhelmed by number of Ebola dead

Red Cross says Monrovia's crematorium cannot keep up with deaths, turning away dozens of infectious corpses every day.

Last updated: 21 Aug 2014 15:57
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Troops set up cordons in the West Point area of Monrovia [AFP]

The crematorium in Liberia's capital Monrovia is being overwhelmed by the number of dead Ebola victims being brought in, the Red Cross has said.

Fayah Tamba, the secretary-general of the Liberian division of the charity, said on Thursday workers were having to return corpses to a hospital in the city after being told there was no capacity to cremate all the victims.

Tamba said she believed it may now be necessary for international organisations to take over responsibility for handling the crisis from the national authorities.

Liberia is the worst affected of four West African countries hit by Ebola, with 576 deaths from 972 cases to date.

Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids and the dead bodies of victims are highly contagious.

"We are constrained ... On Saturday our team was able to collect up to 41 bodies. On Sunday they collected up to 37 bodies," Tamba told a local radio station.

"The crematorium did not have the capacity to cremate all these bodies, so we had to ... carry them [back] to ELWA (the hospital in the capital).

"The next morning we had to make sure to carry these bodies to the crematorium and make sure they were cremated before we could start collecting new ones.

"When you have a situation of this calamity, of this magnitude, we think it is important for us to have an international organisation that will co-ordinate the humanitarian intervention," she said.

Tamba's comments came after a chaotic day in Liberia's capital on Wednesday, with violence erupting in an Ebola quarantine zone after soldiers opened fire and used tear gas on protesting crowds.

The Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, had ordered a nightime curfew and the quarantine of Monrovia's West Point slum and Dolo Town, to the east of the capital, in a bid to stem the outbreak.

According to the latest figures from the World Health Organisation, the Ebola outbreak - the worst ever recorded - has killed at least 1,350 people, 576 in Liberia, 396 in Guinea, and 374 in Sierra Leone.

On Thursday, South Africa banned anyone from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone from entering its territory.

Meanwhile, two Americans have been discharged from an Atlanta hospital after being treated with an experimental Ebola drug. 

Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who both contracted the virus in Liberia, have tested clear of the virus and are likely to make a complete recovery, said Bruce Ribner, the medical director of Emory's infectious disease unit.

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