Liberia’s president opened one of the country’s largest Ebola treatment centres in the capital, Monrovia, amid hopes that the disease is finally on the decline in the West African country.
American and UN officials as well as Cuban doctors were in the crowd on Friday as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf opened the treatment centre, which is set up to hold 200 patients and can eventually treat as many as 300.
The opening of the centre, built out of white plastic sheeting with USAID written across it, comes as fewer people are showing up for treatment. Some believe it’s a sign that the Ebola outbreak is finally on the wane in Liberia.
“It is heartening to see that we are finally perhaps catching up with that boulder if not in front of it. It was rolling down the hill at a speed that we were never going to catch, we thought, two months ago, but we’re starting to make progress,” said US Ambassador Deborah Malac.
Others believe Sirleaf’s order that the bodies of Ebola victims in the capital be cremated has led to people with symptoms hiding at home, because cremation violates traditions.
Doctors Without Borders, known as MSF, said that as of Tuesday there were around 80 patients in its 250-bed facility.
“MSF teams are looking into the reasons for this; a widespread aversion to the government’s mandatory cremation policy, poor ambulance and referral systems, changes in behavior, and other factors may play a role,” the aid group said.
Liberia infection rates
Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah, who heads the government’s Ebola response, told the AP news agency the JFK Ebola medical team and a team of Cuban doctors will be in charge of the new center, located in Congo Town in eastern Monrovia.
|Ebola: Winning a battle but losing a war?|
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said this week that the rate of infection in Liberia appears to be falling but warned that the response effort must be kept up or the trend could be reversed.
More than 13,500 people have been sickened by the disease, and nearly 5,000 have died, the WHO said on Friday. That toll has about 130 fewer cases than the one released by WHO two days ago, mostly because a number of suspected cases in Guinea were determined to not be Ebola, the agency said.
The outbreak has hit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea hardest and all three countries have resorted to extraordinary measures to combat it.
Meanwhile, in the US, a judge rejected the state of Maine’s bid for a quarantine on a nurse who treated victims of the disease in West Africa but tested negative for it, and instead imposed limited restrictions.
Nurse Kaci Hickox’s challenge of the Maine quarantine became a key battleground for the dispute between officials in some US states who have imposed strict quarantines on health workers returning from three Ebola-ravaged West African countries and the federal government, which opposes such measures.
Canada also said on Friday that it will not process visa applications from foreign nationals who have been in an Ebola-affected country within the previous three months, following in the footsteps of Australia.
US President Barack Obama is so far resisting pressure to impose similar travel restrictions.