Sierra Leone’s plan to “lock down” the country for three days to contain the Ebola virus could actually cause it to spread further, the humanitarian medical organization Doctors Without Borders warned Saturday, according to Reuters. The West African nation is one of the worst hit by the outbreak that has killed more than 2,000 people and infected 4,000 more in the region since December.
Under the Sierra Leone government’s currently planned lockdown conditions, people will not be allowed to leave their homes Sept. 19-21. Health workers will screen each household to identify individuals in the early stages of infection, since Ebola becomes contagious only after an incubation period of between two and 21 days. Doctors Without Borders, aka Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, said the problem with this approach is that people will likely hide from health workers and increase their exposure to infected relatives in the process.
“It has been our experience that lockdowns and quarantines do not help control Ebola as they end up driving people underground and jeopardizing the trust between people and health providers,” MSF said. “This leads to the concealment of potential cases and ends up spreading the disease further.”
Sierra Leone’s government said it has hired more than 21,000 people to implement the lockdown. But MSF said this type of door-to-door screening requires a high level of expertise that the workers might not have. And even if screeners can catch more people with early signs of Ebola, the country lacks the resources to effectively treat them, MSF said.
Sierra Leone has seen a 100 percent increase in the number of new cases of Ebola identified in the past 21 days. Liberia, the most affected country, reported 200 new cases a week for the past three weeks.
“The number of cases is rising exponentially,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York Friday. “The disease is spreading far faster than the response. People are increasingly frustrated that it is not being controlled.”
The rising infection rates -- and the frenzy surrounding Ebola -- are simultaneously battering the economies of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, nations already at the bottom of global economic and social indicators, the New York Times reported. Airlines have canceled flights there, while the prices of consumer staples have risen and food supplies have dwindled.
Sierra Leone, where the agricultural sector has been devastated by the disease’s impacts, could see its national growth rate drop by 4 percent, the Times cited the country’s finance ministry as saying this week.