West Africa has intensified its response to the deadly Ebola epidemic, with Sierra Leone uncovering scores of dead bodies during a 72-hour shutdown and Liberia announcing hundreds of new hospital beds.
The outbreak has killed more than 2600 people in the two countries and neighbouring Guinea this year, cutting a swathe through entire villages at the epicentre and prompting warnings over possible economic catastrophe.
Most of Sierra Leone’s six million people were confined to their homes for a third straight day on Sunday, with only essential workers like health professionals and security forces exempt.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Sarian Kamara said authorities had received thousands of calls but only a handful of new patients in the Western Area covering Freetown and its surroundings.
“We were … able to confirm new cases which, had they not been discovered, would have greatly increased transmission,” she said.
“Up to this morning, we had 22 new cases. The response from the medical (teams) has improved and the burial teams were able to bury between 60 to 70 corpses over the past two days.”
Liberia meanwhile has announced plans for an increase in beds for Ebola patients in its overwhelmed capital Monrovia, raising the number from around 250 to 1000 by the end of October.
The move comes two weeks after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the country, worst-hit in the outbreak with more than 1450 deaths, was about to see a huge spike in infections, with thousands of new cases imminent.
“Patients are being rejected … because there is no space. So the government is trying its best to finish the 1000 beds so we can accommodate all the patients,” Information Minister Lewis Brown said.
A second deployment of US troops arrived on Sunday at Liberia’s international airport, 55 kilometres east of Monrovia, as part of an eventual 3000-strong mission to help battle the outbreak.
“Some American troops came soon this morning. They arrived with tactical jeeps,” an airport source told news agency AFP, without giving the size of the unit.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters on Friday a C-17 aircraft with equipment and seven service members had already landed, with two more cargo planes carrying 45 personnel due to follow over the weekend.
The team will set up a headquarters for Major General Darryl Williams, who will oversee the US mission to train local health workers and establish additional medical facilities, he said.
Military engineers are due to build new Ebola treatment centres in affected areas, Washington said last week, while US officials will help recruit medical personnel to work at the units.
The latest WHO figures show Liberia reporting 2710 cases, but they were given a week ago, and the government’s two Ebola units in Monrovia say they have been deluged by patients in recent days.