The bodies of some Ebola victims in the region of Liberia hit hardest by the outbreak can’t be buried because there are no body bags, adding to the obstacles the West African nation faces as it tries to tame the virus.
The northern county of Lofa, which borders Guinea and Sierra Leone, has “absolutely no body bags,” Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare said in a statement dated Aug. 17 and posted on its website yesterday. The government also has only a small fraction of the protective clothing, chlorine powder and mattresses it needs, according to the statement.
Liberia, which has fewer doctors per person than any West African nation, has had more Ebola deaths than any of the other three West African countries affected by the epidemic. A lack of supplies and experienced health-care workers, who sometimes don’t wear protective equipment properly, are contributing to infections among medical personnel in the worst Ebola outbreak on record, the World Health Organization said.
There is “a serious shortage of health workers,” Nyka Alexander, a spokeswoman for the Geneva-based WHO, said in an e-mail. “This puts the limited number of health workers who are available and responding to this outbreak at risk -- when people are tired, they are more likely to make mistakes.”
The WHO sent 2,000 personal protective equipment kits to Liberia on Aug. 8 but their arrival hasn’t been confirmed, Alexander said. The agency also sent 10,000 kits to Sierra Leone on the same day, which arrived yesterday, she said.
The WHO is sending a delegation including Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda to the Liberian capital Monrovia today to review the agency’s response to the outbreak and decide whether it has “the right people in the right place,” said Christy Feig, the WHO’s head of communications.
Doctors Without Borders, which has 100 foreign and almost 1,000 local staff combating the epidemic, is not experiencing any supply problems, Tim Shenk, a spokesman for the medical aid organization, said in an e-mail. Still, “there is a huge need for other actors to respond,” he said.
Health-care workers attending to suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola need to wear protective clothing including goggles, rubber boots, gloves and gowns to ensure no part of their skin is exposed.
While goggles and boots are disinfected and reused, gloves, surgical gowns and scrubs are destroyed after one use, Alexander said.
Direct Relief, a Santa Barbara, California-based aid organization, said last week it had mobilized 40 tons of supplies including gloves and gowns from companies including 3M Co. and Ansell Healthcare Inc.
Lofa County has recorded almost half of Liberia’s 862 Ebola cases so far, and 213 of the nation’s 481 deaths, the ministry said yesterday. Liberia has 51 doctors for a population of 4.4 million people, DaMina Advisors LLP wrote in a note this month.
In Sierra Leone, the nation with the most cases, there’s a lack of transport to take bodies out of homes, said Roeland Monasch, the United Nations Children’s Fund representative in the country.
“Sometimes, in remote areas, there are six or seven deaths on the same day and there’s only one car available to properly deal with it,” Monasch said by phone from Freetown. So that’s very challenging and remains a serious risk factor.’’
While Liberia and Sierra Leone are now bearing the brunt of the epidemic, the WHO said yesterday there are “encouraging signs” in Nigeria, where a dozen people were infected after a Liberian official arrived there on a plane, and in Guinea, where the outbreak started in December.
As of Aug. 16, there have been 2,240 Ebola cases in the outbreak, with 1,229 deaths, the WHO said yesterday.