There are reasons for both hope and continued worry about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday.
Just back from a weeklong trip to the affected countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — Dr. Frieden said at a news conference, “I’m hopeful about stopping the epidemic, but I remain realistic that this is going to be a long, hard fight.”
The World Health Organization on Monday reported 19,340 Ebola cases, including 7,518 deaths in West Africa. Sierra Leone had the most cases, 8,939; Liberia had 7,830 and Guinea 2,571.
On the hopeful side, Dr. Frieden said he had visited a remote part of Guinea, where just a few months ago there was no treatment center and where resistance to visiting health workers had been intense. Now there is a center, established by the French Red Cross, with acceptance by the community, good care and patients surviving, Dr. Frieden said.
He said he had met with Guinea’s president, Alpha Condé, who told him that the country was working hard to open more treatment units in Conakry.
Dr. Frieden said he was also dismayed to hear about a nurse at Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea’s largest hospital, who contracted Ebola after starting an intravenous line on a patient who turned out to be infected. Even though it was six months into the epidemic, the nurse had failed to put on gloves.
Sierra Leone has also been struggling, Dr. Frieden said, noting that many health workers at Connaught Hospital in the capital, Freetown, have died of Ebola and that the hospital is still “largely closed.” At least 10 people a day have been dying in the surrounding community, sometimes at the hospital entrance.
On the other hand, he said, he was alarmed to hear that on a recent day in Conakry, Guinea’s capital, there were not enough beds for all the patients who needed them. Leaving infected people in the community can lead to exponential spread of the disease, Dr. Frieden said, adding, “That’s what Conakry is at risk of.”