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Ebola is Real

Sierra Leone is about to overtake Liberia as the country worst affected by West Africa's devastating Ebola epidemic that has claimed close to 6,000 lives across the region according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Almost a fifth of the country's total Ebola cases were recorded in a three week period leading up to the end of November suggesting that the disease is far from being contained despite desperate efforts to isolate it. While Guinea, the country where the outbreak originated, has now achieved a benchmark in the fight against the disease, namely the isolation of 70% of all patients and the safe burial of 70% of deceased patients, Sierra Leone and Liberia are lagging behind. Rates of new infection have started to stabilise in Liberia and Guinea but appear to still be rising in Sierra Leone. The response to the epidemic has been widely condemned by locals and charities working in the region as woefully inadequate and there is some disagreement about the most effective way of providing assistance in affected areas. Some organisations have set up large treatment facilities but increasingly the need for smaller, mobile units which are able to reach remote communities has become evident.

In Sierra Leone's bustling capital with its many overcrowded and unsanitary slums, the scourge of Ebola continues to reap its grim harvest. With public health institutions completely overwhelmed the government recently decided to draft in the army to take overall control of the battle against the disease. Hotlines set up to give advice to worried citizens are being manned by university students whose colleges have been closed for month, all lecture suspended until further notice. New facilities being built by donor governments are filling up as soon as they open their doors and and at the current rate ,the WHO is warning that Sierra Leone will need up to 4,800 beds by the end of November to cope with the current situation.

Though trials for a vaccine against Ebola which is being developed in the United States are showing an immune response in healthy volunteers, a growing sense of fear about potential infection is slowing the flow of volunteers from abroad and international NGOs have tightened up the rules for deployment of their staff in affected areas.

All the while, a series of other health crises is looming on the horizon, currently being overlooked due to the current emergency. Resources and attention have been diverted from major killers like malaria while a massive drop in family planning efforts is threatening to lead to a major surge in unwanted pregnancies. This comes on top of the catastrophic effect on the economies of the affected countries, some of which, like Liberia and Sierra Leone, were only just starting to rebuild and recover after long and torturous civil wars.

Mads Nissen travelled to Freetown, the Sierra Leonian capital, and other parts of the country to document the extraordinary emergency that has gripped the region.
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