Global Health

Sierra Leone Declares Quarantine, As Ebola Outbreak Worsens

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A surge of new cases in West Africa's Ebola virus outbreak has health officials worried that the epidemic is getting worse. Sierra Leone, for one, has declared a state of emergency, sending in troops to quarantine some of the hardest hit communities.


There's been a surge of new cases in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. More than 120 people have fallen ill in just three days. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden told NPR today, it will take many months to stop the outbreak.

TOM FRIEDEN: This is the biggest, the most complex and the most difficult outbreak of Ebola that we've had to deal with.

CORNISH: Governments in West Africa say, they have to take tough measures. Sierra Leone has declared a state of emergency and is sending in troops to quarantine the worst-hit communities. The government says, it will also conduct house-to-house searches for the sick. Liberia is also considering quarantine and has ordered some schools closed. NPR global health correspondent Jason Beaubien is recently back from Sierra Leone and joins us now. And, Jason, give us an idea of why this has been so hard to control.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: In part, it's been so hard because it's in a very remote part of West Africa. And they simply don't have the resources there to deal with an Ebola outbreak. There's never been in an Ebola outbreak there before, so people don't have experience with it. These are some of the poorest countries in the world.

Up where I was, in sort of the northeastern corner of Sierra Leone that butts up into Guinea and Liberia, they only have four ambulances for a district that covers - in terms of miles, it's not that large, but it takes about four or five hours to cover the entire district. And they simply don't have the resources there to go out and find every Ebola patient, pick up the bodies. They're simply overwhelmed.

CORNISH: Now, as we said, Sierra Leone has declared a state of emergency and is sending soldiers to quarantine certain areas, including where you just were. How do you think that's going to be received, and will it be effective?

BEAUBIEN: I think this is just going to ramp up the overall fear that's there. They're sort of was a quarantine already when I was there. They'd already set up sort of zones where to go from one area to another, you had to go through a police roadblock. They took your temperature. They make you wash your hands with a chlorine solution. Basically, if you had a fever, they weren't going to let you go through there. So they were already screening to try to keep Ebola patients inside that area. So I don't know how much more they can do, unless they're going to stop everyone from going in and out. So I think it's just going to really terrify people even more. People are already very afraid. You know, they simply don't know whether the person next to them might have it or not. And bringing in troops, I think, is going to end up ramping up the fear factor around this.

CORNISH: Finally, Jason, your thoughts on covering this story. I mean, you spent time in Sierra Leone. Are you concerned? And how did you try and stay safe?

BEAUBIEN: You know, Ebola is really a frightening disease, in part because it's incurable. It tends to kill most of the people who get it. And even me, knowing how it's transmitted - I've studied up on it. I've reported on it - not on the ground before, but from a distance. It's really - (laughing) - it gets to you. This one really does get to you. You know, I did everything I could to stay safe. I stayed away from people, didn't shake hands. You know, I heard one morning that one of the doctors from Doctor Without Borders had cut himself shaving, so he wasn't being allowed to go to work that day, so I stopped shaving. I only ate the overcooked food at the hotel. I did everything I could. And yet, still, when I got back here - I've just been counting off the days to get through the 21-day incubation period for Ebola. I know it's a two-to-21-day incubation period. And, you know, I've got a calendar, and I'm just mentally checking it off. And, you know, currently I'm on day 12. And I shouldn't rationally be worried about that, but it really does affect you that way. And it sort of just hangs over you. So you have to imagine what people who are there and seeing their neighbors die and seeing ambulances go by with people in what look like spacesuits driving - how it's affecting them.

CORNISH: That's global health correspondent Jason Beaubien. Jason, thank you.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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