Ebola crisis: Sierra Leone revamps response team

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma has announced a major shake-up of the body in charge of fighting the Ebola outbreak in the country.

He said his defence minister would head a new national response centre and report directly to him. The previous team was headed by the health minister.

Mr Koroma said people were dying and quick decisions had to be taken.

The latest Ebola outbreak has killed about 1,200 people in Sierra Leone, and more than 4,500 across West Africa.

In the worst-affected countries – Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone – 9,191 people have been found to have the virus, which kills 70% of those infected, according to the latest WHO figures.

Mr Koroma’s office said Sierra Leone’s new National Ebola Response Centre was replacing the previous body – the National Operations Centre – “with immediate effect”.

The statement said the new centre would be headed by Defence Minister Paolo Conteh, and would have full powers to combat the disease and ensure a more effective use of aid.

The latest crisis in West Africa is the worst-ever Ebola outbreak.

The virus was first discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976.

It spreads between humans by direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, or indirectly through contact with contaminated environments.

International donors have given almost $400m (£250m) to UN agencies and aid organisations, following an appeal launched in September for $988m.

On Friday, a damning internal report emerged from the UN’s health agency, the World Health Organization (WHO).

It found that the organisation had failed to respond in time to a “perfect storm”.

The report seen by AP states: “Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall. A perfect storm was brewing, ready to burst open in full force.”

It says that experts should have realised that traditional methods of containing infectious disease would not work in a region with porous borders and poor health systems.

Issues highlighted by unnamed WHO sources who spoke to Bloomberg news agency include

  • Delays in WHO experts in the field sending reports to headquarters in Geneva
  • Bureaucratic hurdles preventing $500,000 (£311,000) reaching the response effort in Guinea
  • Virus contact tracers (tasked with identifying people who may have come into contact with sufferers) refusing to work out of concern they would not get paid

The WHO said the document seen by AP was incomplete and had not been checked. A full analysis of its actions would only be completed once the outbreak was under control, it added.

The UN’s special envoy for Ebola, David Nabarro, told the BBC that plans were on course to provide 4,000 beds for Ebola patients by next month, compared with 300 at the end of August.

“We are putting in place the foundations of a very powerful response,” he said, in response to criticism of the UN’s work.