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Sierra Leone Medical Officer Disputes ‘Underreported’ Ebola Deaths

FILE - Health workers carry the body of an Ebola virus victim in the Waterloo district of Freetown, Oct. 21, 2014.

Sierra Leone’s chief medical officer, Dr. Brima Kargbo, said Ebola deaths in his country are not underreported.

Kargbo was reacting to comments reportedly made Friday by Rony Zachariah of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

After visiting Sierra Leone, Zachariah said the global total of nearly 5,000 deaths was “underreported.”

Zachariah also reportedly said that Ebola had wiped out “several villages and communities” in Sierra Leone.

But Kargbo said he was not aware of villages being wiped out. He said there is a tendency by some international partners to inflate Ebola figures for Sierra Leone.

“There are probable deaths, suspected deaths, and confirmed deaths, and we only report those deaths that are confirmed as persons infected with Ebola,” he said.

Kargbo said a standard operating procedure has also been developed to test the bodies of people who have died on the community level to determine if the person died from Ebola before that person is buried.

Kargbo said he had no knowledge of some villages being “wiped out,” as alleged by Zachariah.

“I know MSF operates in Kailahun (eastern province) where the situation there has stabilized for the past two months. So, I wonder whether he was referring to earlier days when the epidemic was in the eastern part of the country,” Dr. Kargbo said.

Kargbo said Sierra Leone authorities have observed a tendency by some international partners to inflate Ebola figures.

“About a month ago, we also had a report from Save the Children saying that every hour five people were being infected in Sierra Leone. When we challenged that report, eventually they had to apologize,” Kargbo said.

He said Sierra Leone also challenged an assertion by someone from the International Red Cross saying that every day in Freetown more than 100 corpses were being buried.

“So, I actually do not know why the international partners have been inflating the figures for Sierra Leone,” Kargbo said.

Kargbo said Ebola infection and death rates in most districts of Sierra Leone have generally been on the decline during the past week, except in the western part of the country where higher figures persist.

“For the past one week, we have been seeing stabilization in most of the districts, except the western areas. Now we talk of single digits in Port Loko, in Bombali, in Bo, in Kenema, except for the western areas where we are facing an increase in figures,” Kargbo said.

But a report by the Africa Governance Initiative said Sunday that, “…whilst new cases appear to have slowed in Liberia, Ebola is continuing to spread frighteningly quickly in parts of Sierra Leone.”

The report said, on average, 12 new cases a day were seen in the rural areas surrounding the capital, Freetown, in late October, compared with 1.3 cases in early September.

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