FREETOWN, Sierra Leone >> A doctor in Sierra Leone has died of Ebola – the fifth local doctor in the West African nation to die of the disease, authorities said Monday.
The death of Dr. Godfrey George, medical superintendent of Kambia Government Hospital in northern Sierra Leone, was a blow to efforts to keep desperately needed health care workers safe in a country ravaged by the deadly virus.
Sierra Leone’s health care system was already fragile before the Ebola epidemic because of past conflict and a lack of resources. The country had two doctors for every 100,000 people in 2010, compared to about 240 doctors for the same number of people in the United States, according to the World Health Organization.
George’s overnight death was announced by Dr. Brima Kargbo, Sierra Leone’s chief medical officer. George had been driven to the capital, Freetown, after reporting that he was not feeling well.
Doctors and nurses have been particularly vulnerable to contracting Ebola, as the virus is spread through bodily fluids.
Sierra Leone has seen a shift in the outbreak recently: Infections in areas in the country’s east, which were the first affected, have slowed, and cases have instead increased in and around the capital. On Monday, the government reported 51 new, confirmed cases in the two districts in the country’s west that include Freetown, while just one in the two eastern districts that used to be most affected.
To combat the disease, more international help is needed, but regular people also need to change their behavior, said Anthony Banbury, head of the U.N. mission on Ebola. Health officials have repeatedly warned that to stop transmissions people must stop touching the sick and dead.
“If people do not change their behavior, more people will continue to die,” Banbury said, while visiting the country Monday.
Ebola is high on the agenda of a regional meeting of the World Health Organization that opened Monday in Benin, a West African nation that has not had any Ebola cases.
The Ebola epidemic has set back political stability and economic recovery in the afflicted countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, WHO chief Margaret Chan said at the meeting. She also noted the disease’s “heavy toll on front-line domestic medical staff.”