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Sierra Leone Hits Back at Ebola Outbreak Claims

FILE - Sierra Leone’s Minister of Information Alpha Kanu.

The World Health Organization said a new Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone has killed dozens of people and sickened more than 100, but a Sierra Leone government spokesman said those numbers are too high.

Alpha Kanu, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Information, hit back Thursday at media reports of a new outbreak.

In a teleconference with journalists, Kanu said the WHO’s announcement that an outbreak in the remote Kono district has killed 87 people and sickened 123 was based on improper counting of Ebola casualties.

“The huge numbers that seem to be coming out on the wires do not seem to be reflecting on the ground,” he said.

“Part of the explanation for that is that these huge numbers are swelled up by tests carried out on people that are already dead, i.e. the swabs. Because we have a policy in Sierra Leone that any death now is treated as an Ebola death until proven otherwise,” Kanu said.

Since the outbreak began earlier this year, Ebola has killed more than 6,500 people. Of the three West African countries hardest hit, Sierra Leone now has the highest number of infections with 7,987 cases. Liberia and Guinea have also suffered from the disease.

Kono district lockdown

Health authorities have begun a lockdown of Kono district that will last until December 23 to assist in fighting the outbreak.

Kanu said his country is treating all deaths as Ebola deaths so that burials, a key way the disease is transmitted, are carried out safely. He added that he expects Sierra Leone to make strong progress against the virus by the end of the December.

“Eight cases have been the highest number that has been reported in one single day in Kono. And that is what has caused the alarm and the alert,” Kanu said.

“So it is not an explosion. They are a containable situation, and the DHMT [District Health Management Team] is already there and on top of the situation. And we are sending teams there to ensure that during the lockdown, people who are sick can be brought out. Yes, we still agree, that we will trend to zero by the end of the year,” he continued.

The WHO has also said Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are making progress toward the U.N. goals of treating 100 percent of Ebola patients and conducting 100 percent of burials safely.