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Ebola kills 56 in two days; toll now 1,069

Geneva – The Ebola virus killed 56 people in just two days, bringing the global death toll to 1,069, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday.

The death toll, which passed the 1,000-mark in the weekend, soared higher between August 10 and 11.

CONFIRMED INFECTIONS JUMP

The number of confirmed infections jumped by 128 over the last two days, bringing the total number of cases to 1,975 people, the United Nation’s (UN) health agency said.

New cases and deaths had been registered in all four west African countries so far hit by the worst Ebola epidemic seen since the deadly virus was discovered four decades ago.

Liberia saw 71 new cases and 32 new deaths, while Sierra Leone recorded 53 new cases and 19 more deaths, according to fresh WHO data.

Guinea, where the outbreak began at the beginning of the year, counted four new cases and four new deaths.

Nigeria, meanwhile, counted one more death, bringing the total there to three, but WHO lowered the total number of suspected, probable and confirmed cases in the country to 12 from 13.

ANOTHER EBOLA EXPERT DIES

Meanwhile, an AFP report said the second Sierra Leonean doctor died after contracting the deadly Ebola virus, health officials said on Wednesday. Dr Modupeh Cole, a senior physician at the Connaught Hospital in Freetown, was diagnosed with Ebola last Friday. Dr Cole had been very instrumental in the fight against the Ebola virus.

His death came about two weeks after Sierra Leone’s leading anti-Ebola expert, Dr. Umar Khan, also died from the virus.

‘IMPOSSIBLE DILEMMA’

The health crisis created by the deadly virus has given ethical questions on the experimental drug to those working directly with the victims.  Early this week, the World Health Organization met to resolve the issue of giving an experimental drug to the victims. Then, the issue turned to who should be given the treatment first because of the drug’s limited supply.

In Sierra Leone, an AP report related another ethical problem.

Doctors treating a Sierra Leone physician with Ebola defended their decision not to give him an experimental drug, saying they feared it was too risky.

Calling it “an impossible dilemma,” Doctors Without Borders explained in detail last month’s decision in response to a New York Times story on the case. It would have been the first time the experimental drug was tried in humans.

The explanation came the same day that another top doctor from Sierra Leone died of the disease, further fueling a debate about how to apportion a limited supply of untested drugs and vaccines and whether they are even effective.

DR. KHAN’S CASE

At the time that the experimental treatment was being considered for Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, his immune system was already starting to produce antibodies suggesting he might recover,

Doctors Without Borders said in the statement. Khan was also due to be transferred to a European hospital that would be more capable of handling problems that might arise, it said.

The experimental drug, ZMapp, is designed to boost the immune system to help it fight the virus. Since Khan’s body was already producing an immune response, the doctors may have feared that any boost would kick it into overdrive.

In the end, the treating physicians decided against using the drug. They never told Khan of its existence because they felt it would be unethical to tell him of a treatment they might not use.

Shortly after their decision, however, Khan’s condition worsened, the statement said, and the company providing the medical evacuation decided not to transfer him. He died a few days later, on July 29.

MAKING DIFFICULT CHOICES

“Every day, doctors have to make choices, sometimes difficult, about treatment for their patients,” said the Doctors Without Borders statement. “Trying an untested drug on patients is a very difficult decision, particularly in the light of the ‘do no harm’ principle.”

ZMapp has since been given to two U.S. aid workers and a Spanish missionary priest. The Americans are improving, although it is unclear what role ZMapp has played in that, but the priest died Tuesday.

The last known doses of ZMapp arrived in Liberia on Wednesday, carried personally by Foreign Minister Augustine Ngafuan. The California-based company that makes the drug, Mapp Pharmaceuticals, has said that its supplies are now exhausted, and it will take months to produce even a modest amount.

The drug has never before been tested in humans, and it is not clear if it is effective or even harmful.

While many have called for more experimental drugs to be made available, noting that Ebola patients often have little to lose and so much to potentially gain, others have expressed caution.

“To use this drug without having any information on its human benefits or dangers runs the risk of mistakenly thinking it is either effective or not based upon anecdotal evidence, a difficulty that could prove disastrous for later in this outbreak or future ones,” said Dr. Philip M. Rosoff, director of the Clinical Ethics Program at Duke University Hospital.

The Canadian government has promised to donate 800 to 1,000 doses of its untested Ebola vaccine to the World Health Organization. Shelly Glover, the Canadian regional minister for Manitoba, where Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory is located, said Wednesday that the vaccines haven’t left Canada yet.

WHO WILL GET TREATMENT?

She said WHO is assembling a panel of experts to help decide who will get one.Likely candidates are health care workers in Africa who are among the most vulnerable because of their close contact with Ebola patients.

Unlike ZMapp, which is being given to only a handful of people and is unlikely to yield significant information about the drug’s effectiveness, the vaccine could be tested in a small, but more rigorous field trial.

Leaving victims to die

The deadly virus has created tough community problems in a village where a single villager got the virus. The victim and his whole family were abandoned by the other villagers, who themselves also got ostracized by other villagers.

An AFP report related of a village in Liberia where the victim and members of his family were left to die.

The only sounds in the abandoned Liberian village were the cries of a little girl, shut up with her mother’s body inside the family home, starving and thirsty as she waited for death.

Eventually even the girl – 12-year-old Fatu Sherrif – fell silent as she too succumbed to the deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging her country and other parts of west Africa.

RESIDENTS FLEE TO FOREST

When AFP visited Fatu’s village of Ballajah on Sunday, she had been locked away with her mother’s body for a week after most residents fled to the forest to escape an outbreak of the virus.

A few villagers remained, including Momoh Wile, a septuagenarian local chief, who told AFP Fatu’s harrowing story.

Ebola was first detected in Fatu’s family on July 20 when her father Abdulah fell sick, Wile told AFP. The diagnosis sparked panic among the 500 or so people who lived in the village. They called health authorities but by the time a team finally arrived, Abdulah, 51, had been dead for five days.

His wife, Seidia Passawee Sherrif, 43, and Fatu were already sick. Only their son, Barnie, 15, tested negative for Ebola.

CRYING ALL DAY AND NIGHT

“They were crying all day and all night, begging their neighbors to give them food but everyone was afraid,” Wile said.

Fatu’s mother eventually died on August 10 but the girl’s cries could still be heard around the otherwise abandoned village.

The doors and windows to the house were sealed shut and there was no way to see inside.

ONLY SURVIVOR

The only surviving member of the family, Fatu’s 15-year-old brother Barnie, tested negative for the virus but was still shunned by his fellow villagers.

AFP found Barnie on Sunday taking refuge in one of the abandoned houses, alone and scrounging for food. Barnie sobbed as he told his story.”It is here that I sleep; it is here that I stay the whole day. Nobody wants to come near me and they know — people told them that I don’t have Ebola,” he said.

The villagers who abandoned Fatu and Barnie have meanwhile themselves been shunned by neighboring towns also in fear of the spread of the virus, Wile said.

Health authorities in Liberia — where President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a state of emergency on August 6 — refused to comment on the case.