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UN Official: Focus on Ebola Shifts to Sierra Leone, Guinea

A healthcare worker in protective gear sprays disinfectant around the house of a person suspected to have Ebola virus in Port Loko Community, situated on the outskirts of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Oct. 21, 2014.

A senior United Nations official says an upsurge in the transmission of the deadly Ebola virus in western Sierra Leone and northern Guinea requires a more intense international response to halt the spread of this fatal disease.

Not long ago, Liberia was threatened with cases of Ebola spiraling out of control. Although the epidemic in that country is far from over, the number of cases and deaths is stabilizing.

Special U.N. Envoy on Ebola David Nabarro said concerns regarding the spread of Ebola have shifted to western Sierra Leone around Port Loko and the capital Freetown, as well as the northern part of Guinea. He said the United Nations and partners would focus on the deadly disease in these inflamed areas.

Nabarro told VOA the increase in transmission in western Sierra Leone reflected the failure of communities there to fully embrace the outbreak and take action to avoid infection.

“And also we do not yet have the full number of functioning treatment centers and places where people who are ill can be kept away from others, and so we are anticipating several hundred beds to come on stream in the next few weeks, and that will lead to the situation calming down," he said. "We are already seeing some suggestions that the numbers of new cases in parts of the west are not seen increasing in quite the same rate as they were two weeks ago.”

Nabarro said more beds in treatment centers and more international and national staff were needed. He said it took about 300 people to operate a 50-bed facility.

The U.N. special envoy said tackling Ebola in the interior of Guinea presented greater difficulties than in Sierra Leone.

“The areas where people are infected are extremely isolated, transportation is difficult, and we also do not have quite the number of groups working in that area that are working in other parts of the region," he said. "And so that is now very much the center of my attention is how to find more people to work there and also how to make certain that we get the strongest possible community mobilization in communities that are still quite scared about the problem.”

Nabarro said the United Nations was working closely with authorities in Mali to make sure Ebola cases that might cross the border from Guinea were dealt with quickly to contain the epidemic. The World Health Organization said Mali had eight cases of the disease, including six deaths.