Ebola death confirmed in Sierra Leone as end of outbreak nears

Lamin Koroma and Suley Kamara were both at university before joining the team at the British-built Makeni Ebola treatment center. (Jessica Seldon/DFID)

Reports that a person in Sierra Leone has died from Ebola come just days after the discharge of what was said to be the last patient with Ebola in the country. The case was confirmed on Sunday after samples from the 67-year-old woman tested positive for Ebola.

Health officials are tracking down anyone who came in contact with the woman. They need to determine whether her death occurred before or after the discharge of Adama Sankoh, last Monday. The woman is from Kambia District, located along the border with Guinea – where Ebola persists. That location is of particular concern.

“We are particularly concerned because Kambia has gone 50 days without a confirmed Ebola case, suggesting the possibility of an error,” said Sierra Leone’s Chief Medical Officer Brima Kargbo, in an interview with Reuters.

The most recent situation report from the Ministry of Health shows that most of the country’s 14 districts are more than 100 days Ebola-free. As more suspected cases test negative, the hope remains that the outbreak is over in Sierra Leone. Officials expressed optimism in reaction to the news and said they will remain vigilant by monitoring potential cases.

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“We should not despair as we have been expecting this,” said OB Sisay, director of the National Ebola Response Center for Sierra Leone. “We need to stay focused and maintain our discipline.”

Contact tracing teams were deployed after the test results came back positive. They will determine who came in contact with the woman during the contagious period. Those people will undergo regular testing and observations until they pass the 21-day mark. Others in the country are waiting within that 21-day period, but there is no evidence that anyone else in Sierra Leone has the virus.

Meanwhile a post-Ebola Sierra Leone is focusing on the aftermath of the outbreak. Economic recovery is under way, but people who survive Ebola must deal with long-term physical concerns. And then there are the psychological issues related to the outbreak.

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The International Federation of the Red Cross already has psycho-social experts working in the country to support those affected. They are focusing their attention on the people who buried the dead. Experts advised using comedy and dancing as a way to ease the stress and trauma experienced throughout the day.

Unfortunately, there are not enough counselors in the country to meet the increased demand.

“I only know of one Sierra Leone psychologist, and for me that is a challenge,” said Joshua Abioseh Duncan, a coordinator for the Mental Health Coalition of Sierra Leone. “Professional counselors – we need more of them. We need more individuals to provide service with regards to issues of this kind.”

Sierra Leone could be declared Ebola-free in as soon as 35 days.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.