How Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreaks could have been halved

Kieran Guilbert
Reporter, Reuters
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Supplying beds for Ebola patients to health facilities in Sierra Leone saved tens of thousands of lives by isolating patients, but providing them just one month earlier could have halved the number of reported cases, researchers said.

The delivery of nearly 3,000 beds by Britain, Sierra Leone and aid agencies between September 2014 and February this year prevented 57,000 Ebola infections and 40,000 deaths, according to experts at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

Yet introducing the beds one month earlier could have reduced the number of reported cases by 7,500 – more than half the 14,000 cases recorded in the West African nation by the World Health Organization (WHO) – the study found.

“Our findings show the unprecedented local and international response led to a substantial decline in Ebola transmission,” said report lead author Adam Kucharski, lecturer in Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the LSHTM.

“However, if more support and resources had been available earlier, it could have made a big difference in reducing the terrible toll this outbreak has taken on communities and health workers,” Kucharski told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The world’s worst recorded Ebola outbreak has infected more than 28,000 and killed 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since it began in December 2013, and is only now coming under control.

The three West African countries recorded their first week with no new cases, as of Oct. 4, since the outbreak was officially declared in March 2014, the WHO said last Wednesday.

“There will almost certainly be more outbreaks of Ebola in the future, whether in West Africa or elsewhere, and it is crucial to make sure the response is ready faster next time,” Kucharski said.

Increasing the number of beds in Ebola holding facilities, community care and treatment centres averted further infections by isolating patients from their communities, according to the study, which was published in the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research focused only on the impact of making more beds available because there was limited data on other measures such as community engagement, promoting safe burials and encouraging suspected Ebola patients to seek early treatment.

Sierra Leone released its last two known Ebola patients just over two weeks ago and began a new 42-day countdown to being officially declared free of the virus.

This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Kieran Guilbert writes for Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

Image: Health workers put on protective gear before entering a quarantine zone at a Red Cross facility in the town of Koidu, Kono district in Eastern Sierra Leone. REUTERS/Baz Ratner 

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