Despite Pledges Of Help, Ebola Crisis Worsens In Sierra Leone
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now to NPR's Anders Kelto in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. He's just returned from the epicenter of that country's Ebola outbreak in the East and he joins us now.
Anders, we just heard Doctors Without Borders president Joanne Liu speaking today at the U.N. and she said fear and panic have set in there and that in this fight, quote, "Ebola is winning." Is that your sense on the ground in Sierra Leone?
ANDERS KELTO, BYLINE: Well, most people that I've spoken with here say that they have faith that Ebola will be eliminated from their country soon. And they try to be optimistic but there's definitely a sense of terror and uncertainty. And everywhere you go here, you see signs of Ebola - there are banners and posters everywhere with warnings, there are chlorine hand wash stations, there's messages on the radio and it's hard not to get the sense that right now Ebola is winning.
MARTIN: President Obama today spoke about the need to scale up the international response and to do it quickly. Have you seen any evidence of international help arriving in Sierra Leone?
KELTO: Well, yes and no. There are a number of international NGO's like Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross who are opening new Ebola treatment facilities. In fact, just in the last few days two more have opened. China's constructing a facility. South Africa is running a lab here. In terms of the U.S., the most significant presence that I've seen is the CDC, who have staff running labs here, doing epidemiology and providing training and support for the Sierra Leonean government. So I'm certainly not seeing anything to the scale of what Obama has outlined. But that's at least partly because the U.S.'s efforts are going to be more concentrated in Liberia.
MARTIN: So what does that mean for the people that you've been talking to? What are those conversations like? Do people there feel like they're getting what they need?
KELTO: Well, I just got back from Kenema, which is a city sort of at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak and I spoke with a bunch of nurses there on the frontlines who are treating people with Ebola in these isolation units and these treatment centers. Almost everyone that I spoke to, at the end of our conversation looked at me and said, we need more help. Please help get the word out that we need more assistance. And so I think in a way, people feel a little abandoned by the international community or at least feel desperate and don't know where else to turn to. And I would add that there are a lot of good things happening here, just not on the scale needed.
MARTIN: You were just talking about those treatment centers that have been established in Sierra Leone. There was discussion at the U.N. about the need to build more of them. What can you tell us about how they're actually working? How people are being treated? What are those facilities like?
KELTO: Well, the center that I visited yesterday up in Kenema went up very quickly and very early in the outbreak. And to be honest, it wasn't very well-planned. At that one facility, one Ebola treatment center, they have lost 37 health workers. The newer facilities that are now coming along seem to be much better organized, better planned, better run. And there is evidence that people are more likely to survive Ebola if they get to one of these treatment centers, as opposed to staying at home.
MARTIN: Earlier this week you reported on a 14-year-old who may have mistakenly been brought to an Ebola holding center, which is where people are taken if they're suspected to have Ebola. But you reported that he didn't seem to have the disease. Do you have any updates on him?
KELTO: Yeah. I spoke with his guardian last night and he told me that the boy is doing well. He still has no signs of Ebola. No vomiting, no diarrhea, no fever. But the problem is, he still hasn't gotten his test results. This is now his fifth day in this holding center. So in the meantime, he's sitting in a tent surrounded by people who likely have Ebola. And these are the kinds of problems that you run into when you're running a response of this scale. And these are the kinds of problems that need to be eliminated as this international response is scaled up.
MARTIN: NPR's Anders Kelto speaking with us from the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown. Thanks so much, Anders.
KELTO: Thank you, Rachel.
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