August 16, 2014 2:58 pm

Ebola victim numbers swell as more flights halted to West Africa

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MONROVIA, Liberia – Liberian authorities expanded Ebola treatment centres in the capital Saturday to cope with increasing numbers of patients, while two more airlines announced they were halting flights to the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the deepening crisis.

Kenya Airways and regional carrier Gambia Bird join a number of other airlines in temporarily cancelling flights to avoid transmitting the disease beyond the four countries already affected in West Africa.

The Kenya Airways flights will stop as of midnight Tuesday, said Titus Naikuni, the chief executive officer of Kenya Airways. The decision was made with guidance from the country’s health ministry, Naikuni said.

MORE: Coverage of West Africa’s deadliest Ebola outbreak on record

Gambia Bird said it had stopped flying to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

“The decision has been taken in the light of international concern about the further spread of the Ebola virus in the West African sub-region, and with the aim of continuing to offer a safe and reliable service to all customers, whilst also protecting the health and well-being of passengers and crew,” the statement said.

Health experts have warned that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa may last another six months. At least 1,145 people have died across Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, and that may “vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak,” the World Health Organization says.

New figures released on Friday showed that Liberia now has recorded more deaths – 413 – than any of the other affected countries.

On Saturday, a newly expanded, 34-bed Ebola treatment centre was opened at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center in Monrovia, health officials said.

Assistant health minister Tolbert Nyenswah told the Associated Press the new centre “will start admitting patients this evening or Monday.”

Another treatment centre in the southeastern outskirts of Monrovia was expanded from 80 to 120 beds. That centre will eventually be further expanded to take 300 patients.

Isolating Ebola patients is critical to slowing the spread of the disease, as sick people can transmit it through their bodily fluids such as blood, sweat or urine. There is no licensed treatment or vaccine for the disease, which has killed at least half of its victims this year.

Health workers treating Ebola patients on the front lines of the crisis have borne the brunt of the fatalities. Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, told journalists Friday that his country has lost two top doctors and 32 nurses.

“We need specialized clinicians and expertise and that is why we are appealing to the international community for an enhanced response to our fight against the Ebola disease,” he said.

Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writer Clarence Roy-Macaulay in Freetown, Sierra Leone contributed to this report.

© The Associated Press, 2014

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