The World Health Organization said Wednesday that dozens of people have died from a previously hidden Ebola outbreak in an eastern district of Sierra Leone.
The WHO said investigators sent to the remote Kono district last week found a "grim scene" of Ebola patients dying in a hospital unequipped to deal with the virus. It said in 11 days, teams buried 87 bodies, including a nurse, an ambulance driver and a janitor who had removed bodies from the hospital as they piled up.
Just before the WHO statement was issued, the U.N. health agency said Sierra Leone accounted for the bulk of newly reported Ebola cases and deaths in West Africa.
As of Tuesday, the Kono district officially had 123 confirmed cases of Ebola. But the director of disease control for Sierra Leone's health ministry, Dr. Amara Jambai, suggested that number was far too low.
Experts have warned that despite intense efforts by health ministries and aid groups, not all Ebola patients in West Africa are being properly isolated and treated, raising the risk that the virus will continue to spread.
Olu Olushayo, the WHO's coordinator in Sierra Leone, said doctors, nurses and burial teams in Kono have done their best to contain the outbreak, "but they simply ran out of resources and were overrun with gravely ill people."
The agency said Sierra Leone officials, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other organizations were sending staff and equipment to Kono. It said the International Red Cross would quickly build a new Ebola treatment center and disinfect the hospital.
Earlier, the WHO said the overall death toll from Ebola — not counting the newly reported cases from Kono — was 6,388. The total number of cases stood at 17,942.
Sierra Leone reported 397 new cases in the week ending December 7, three times as many as Guinea and Liberia combined. The WHO said Sierra Leone now has the highest number of reported cases at 7,987, passing Liberia.
The WHO said the three West African nations were making progress toward a U.N. goal of treating 100 percent of Ebola patients and safely burying 100 percent of Ebola fatalities, although an uneven distribution of beds and burial teams means there are serious shortfalls in some areas.