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Cuban doctor contracts Ebola in Sierra Leone

19 November 2014, 19:07

Freetown - A Cuban doctor infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone became the latest of more than 570 health workers to have contracted the virus amid fresh warnings that the fight against the deadly disease is far from over.

As efforts to fight the outbreak in the three worst-hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea intensify after a lacklustre start, Cuba has played a major role sending around 250 doctors and nurses to the region. Havana has said it plans to send a total of 450.

Felix Baez Sarria, one of about 165 Cuban medics in Sierra Leone, is currently in a Red Cross centre near Freetown, his boss, Doctor Jorge Delgado Butillo, told AFP on Wednesday.

"He's not critical, he's doing well, in a good condition," Butillo said. "The most important thing now is to get him evacuated to Geneva pretty soon."

The Cuban health ministry said Sarria, 43, was being treated by British doctors.

The worst ever outbreak of the virus has killed almost 5,200 people, mostly in west Africa with the largest number of casualties in Liberia.

According to the World Health Organization last week, a total of 570 healthcare workers were known to have contracted the virus, and 324 have died.

The three countries at the epicentre of the outbreak are among the world's poorest nations, with sketchy healthcare and infrastructure facilities that were ravaged by years of inter-linked civil conflicts.

The lack of toilets in the region was highlighted by the United Nations as a possible cause for the spread of the highly contagious haemorrhagic disease.

Half the population of Liberia, the country worst hit by the epidemic, have no access to toilets, while in Sierra Leone nearly a third of people live without latrines, a new UN report said.

Before it was declared Ebola-free last month, Nigeria warned against defecating in the open to guard against the virus, which spreads through contact with bodily fluids.

The oil-rich west African country of Equatorial Guinea meanwhile hired 50 Cuban doctors to contain the outbreak of Ebola during the Africa Cup of Nations next year, an official said.

It took over the organisation of the continental football tournament at the 11th hour last week when Morocco was stripped of the right to host the event after it expressed fears over the deadly virus being transmitted by visiting supporters and requested a postponement.

The Cuban doctors are expected to arrive in the next few days, government television reported.

The fight against Ebola is far from being won despite some good news from Liberia where the infection rate apparently seems to be slowing, world leaders have warned.

Read alsoUN calls for end to open defecation amid Ebola threat 

"As long as the outbreak continues to rage in the three countries in west Africa -- Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea -- this is still going to be a danger -- not just for America, but for the entire world," US President Barack Obama said.

"We are nowhere near out of the woods yet in West Africa," he said.

The United States has sent nearly 2,200 soldiers to Liberia, Africa's oldest republic formed by freed American slaves, to help in the fight against Ebola.

The Pentagon initially planned to deploy up to 4,000 troops but now the target is at 3,000.

The worldwide focus on Ebola has meanwhile worried the British monarch who fears that malaria -- which can also be fatal -- would be ignored.

"After Ebola we will still have malaria," Queen Elizabeth II said, according to David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"She was very interested in Ebola because she said her doctor had told her that there were more people dying from malaria every week than are dying from Ebola -- and he was right," said Heymann.

"She's afraid that malaria will have a comeback because of the fact people are not paying enough attention to it," he said.

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