Hundreds of troops were deployed in Sierra Leone and Liberia yesterday under an emergency plan to fight the worst-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus, which has killed more than 826 people in West Africa.
Panic among communities, which have attacked health workers and threatened to burn down isolation wards, prompted regional governments to impose tough measures last week, including closing schools and quarantining the remote forest region worst affected by the disease.
The haemorrhagic virus, which has no known cure, has infected more than 1400 people, straining the capacity of underfunded health systems and aid groups in one of the poorest regions in the world.
Despite pleas for help from aid groups, the number of cases is also creeping steadily higher in Guinea, where the outbreak originated in February. And Nigeria’s megacity Lagos recorded its second case yesterday, in a doctor who treated US victim Patrick Sawyer.
Convoys of military trucks ferried troops and medical workers to Sierra Leone’s far east, where the density of cases is highest. Military spokesman Colonel Michael Samoura said the operation, codenamed Octopus, involved about 750 military personnel.
Isolated communities will be quarantined but healthcare workers will have freedom of movement to keep the communities supplied with food.
In neighbouring Liberia, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and ministers held a crisis meeting on Sunday to put in place a series of anti-Ebola measures as police contained infected communities in the north of the country.
“The situation will probably get worse before it gets better,” Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown said.
“We are overstretched. We need support; we need resources; we need workers.”
The World Health Organisation plans to launch a $100-million response plan.
WHO CEO Margaret Chan warned regional leaders that Ebola was outpacing their efforts to fight it and warned of “catastrophic” consequences if the situation deteriorated.