World | Africa

August 06, 2014

Sierra Leone Deploys Troops in Ebola Crisis

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — Faced with a widening crisis over the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, Sierra Leone’s government said Tuesday that it would deploy hundreds of troops and police officers to ensure that patients and family members who may be infected remain isolated.

A battalion — 750 soldiers — will be sent to clinics housing Ebola patients in areas where the disease is most virulent, and the police presence will be reinforced at homes where family members are at risk of having contracted it, said Abdulai Baratay, a government spokesman.

Sierra Leone has become the center of the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola, which has instilled fear across West Africa and has spread to four countries. Sierra Leone, a country of 5.7 million people and the size of South Carolina, has recorded the highest number of cases, 646, and the second-highest deaths, 273.

The mortality rate is so high — up to 90 percent — that many across the region simply refuse to accept that Ebola is present. Several cases have been recorded here of families entering clinics to snatch away relatives with the disease and not abiding by new rules quarantining households — forbidding the coming and going of visitors — where there have been Ebola patients.

The deployment of soldiers and police officers announced Tuesday is intended to combat this wave, government spokesmen said.

It also appears to be a sign of the increasing anxiety of officials here, faced with a deadly tide that is intensifying, not diminishing. Monday was decreed a “stay at home day” in Sierra Leone, an interruption of normal life to bring home to a resistant population that it faces a deadly challenge.

 “Where there is a serious situation, the president can invoke military assistance to civil power,” Unisa Sesay, the president’s director of communications, said in an interview. “You have to understand that there has been a lot of lawlessness connected to this Ebola business.”

Mr. Sesay noted that “family members have forced their way into these medical facilities and removed” patients “and taken them home, and overpowered the workers.”

He said the “infection rate” was increasing, precisely because of this lack of respect for the rigorous isolation measures that the disease demands. The troops will be deployed especially in the major outbreak centers of Kenema and Kailahun, in the country’s east, he said.

On the streets of the capital, people have made a joke of a “no handshake” rule counseled by some. But there were signs that the seriousness of the epidemic was taking hold. “Everyone is worried,” said Kingsley Sesay, 21, an automobile repairman in the Cline Town district. “Some are believers, and some do not believe. I’m worried, because it is a killer disease.”

The United States Agency for International Development announced Tuesday that it would deploy a team to West Africa, including some representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to help coordinate the American government’s response to the outbreak, which has so far killed 887.

 

Text by The New York Times
 

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