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UN chief praises Ebola healthcare workers

21 December 2014, 08:17

Hastings - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday praised healthcare workers fighting the Ebola virus as he paid his first visit to Liberia and Sierra Leone following an outbreak that has killed nearly 7 000 people.

Ban paid tribute to local workers and the United Nations, but he singled out medics from the three countries at the heart of the epidemic who have fallen sick while treating patients.

He visited an Ebola treatment centre outside Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, and listened as 28-year-old nurse Rebecca Johnson told how she contracted Ebola while treating patients only to survive and then return to work.

"We will stand with Sierra Leone until this outbreak is under control and the country has recovered from its impact," Ban said, calling Johnson's story was "touching and moving".

Sierra Leone now accounts for more than half of the 18 603 total confirmed cases since the outbreak was detected in March in the forests of southeastern Guinea. It has since spread to six West African nations including Liberia.

Sierra Leone's government launched "Operation Western Area Surge" this week to contain the outbreak, which is raging hardest in western areas around the capital. Health workers passed street-by-street looking for the sick.

Ban later visited the British-run headquarters of the operation and held talks with President Ernest Bai Koroma.

‘Zero cases’

Ban is set to visit Guinea and Mali on Saturday before heading to Ghana and the headquarters of the UN Ebola response mission on a tour to raise the profile of the Ebola fight at a time when it risks dropping out of the headlines, aides said.

"Ebola remains a global crisis, and we must stop it at its source. The only acceptable goal is zero cases," he said. "Our task is to prevent Ebola becoming endemic in this region."

The virus, which causes vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding, is spread by contact with the bodily fluids of the sick. It has no known cure and had never struck in West Africa before.

At each site Ban visited in Liberia and Sierra Leone, health workers took his temperature using hi-tech thermometers and made sure he washed his hands in chlorinated water.

Fever is an early sign of the disease and governments are keen to show that not even dignitaries are immune from the public health measures implemented to prevent Ebola's spread.

"We would like to urge local communities that this is a temporary operation and we fully respect the cultural traditions but at this time it is important to abide by health protocols," Ban told Reuters on board his flight to Liberia.

Number of infections drop dramatically

Earlier, Ban spoke to staff at the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia and met President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf before heading to a US run Ebola treatment facility outside Monrovia.

Liberia, once the prime hotspot of the Ebola outbreak, has seen the number of new infections drop dramatically over the past month, with some health officials citing improved burial practices as a major factor.

"The promising results that Liberia has experienced must be shared regionally to avoid the risk of retransmission," Ban said. "We need more robust contact tracing. We need better preparedness at the district level."

- Reuters


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