MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Liberian authorities opened a new center to treat Ebola patients in the capital Saturday after the existing one became overwhelmed with patients, while two more airlines announced they will halt 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.
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.
The first center in Liberia’s capital was only meant to treat 25 people but had about 80 patients as of Friday, said Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah. The new center will have 120 beds but may eventually be tripled in size because of the ongoing crisis.
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.