LONDON (AP) — In the face of an Ebola outbreak unlike any other seen before, officials are turning to unprecedented measures: makeshift clinics that will offer little or no care.
At a one-day conference in London on Thursday, Britain and Sierra Leone appealed for more help and officials discussed new ways to slow the lethal virus, including plans to build up to 1,000 makeshift Ebola clinics in Sierra Leone.
The new clinics will offer little, if any, treatment, but could be built quickly and would get sick people away from their families and hopefully slow the infection rate. The clinics will first be tested in several locations before being rolled out more widely, according to the World Health Organization.
Only a fraction of Ebola patients are now in treatment centers.
“If we don’t do anything, we’ll just be watching people die,” WHO spokeswoman Dr. Margaret Harris said in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone is one of the hardest-hit countries in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which is believed to have killed more than 3,300 people and infected at least twice as many.
Britain has already promised to provide 700 beds to Sierra Leone and sent dozens of military and humanitarian staff to help.
Also on Thursday, Cuba announced that the first group of specially trained doctors and nurses had been sent to Sierra Leone. A group of 165 doctors and nurses left Wednesday night and were seen off by President Raul Castro.
Experts say the disease will continue to spread rapidly unless at least 70 percent of people who are infected are isolated and prevented from infecting other people. Dozens of Ebola treatment centers have been promised, but they could take weeks or even months to go up.
Steve Monroe, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection, said authorities need to accept that conditions aren’t ideal and do what they can.
“We believe we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” said Monroe, who is the deputy director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.
Experts are turning to these imperfect solutions because the scale of the Ebola outbreak is overwhelming the traditional response methods tried so far.
Save the Children noted Thursday that Ebola is spreading at a “terrifying rate,” estimating that in recent days five people were becoming infected every hour in Sierra Leone alone. That figure is based on both confirmed cases and an estimate of how many cases are not being reported.
“We need to try different things because of the scale of this outbreak,” said Brice de la Vingne, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders.
“We’ve used these kinds of basic tents in past catastrophes but never for Ebola,” he explained. “But right now we’re screaming for more isolation centers so patients don’t infect their communities.”
DiLorenzo reported from Dakar, Senegal. AP Writer Andrea Rodriguez in Havana contributed to this report.
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