- Title: HEALTH-EBOLA/SIERRA LEONE/BAN KI-MOON U.N. chief visits Ebola-hit Sierra Leone
- Date: 20th December 2014
- Summary: FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE (DECEMBER 19, 2014) (REUTERS) U.N HELICOPTER LANDING AT HASTINGS TREATMENT CENTER
- Embargoed: 4th January 2015 12:00
- Location: Sierra Leone
- Country: Sierra Leone
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVA6W14UMHCHX517QOQ1YLKEREOF
- Story Text: U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, starting a visit to Ebola-hit states in West Africa on Friday (December 19), urged their people to set aside traditional practices like washing the dead by hand so as to help end an epidemic that has killed nearly 7,000 people.
The U.N. chief arrived later on Friday in Sierra Leone where infection rates are rising fastest, now accounting for more than half of the 18,603 total confirmed cases of the virus.
Infection is spreading rapidly around the coastal capital Freetown, where some aid workers say public information efforts have lagged. Sierra Leone launched "Operation Western Area Surge" this week to contain Ebola - with health workers passing street by street looking for the sick.
Ban said he hoped to use his two-day tour of the region - his first since the outbreak was detected in March - to raise the profile of the fight against the disease and to thank the thousands of health workers who have participated.
The virus, which causes vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding in its final stages, is spread by contact with the bodily fluids of the sick. It has no known cure and had never struck in West Africa before.
"Zero cases must be everyone's goal, with WHO providing the strategic vision and guidelines and direction, and the United Nations combining with the crises management experience, and me as the secretary general working together with world leaders mobilizing political will, social, financial and logistical support and working together with many NGOs and partners, i think we can do it," said Ban Ki-moon to health workers and Ebola survivors in Freetown.
U.N. officials and health workers have said that many people in the worst affected countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have been slow to adapt their cultural practices. Many people have denied the existence of the disease or voiced anger at what they see as an attack on their beliefs and way of life.
The death toll from the nine-month-old spread of the hemorrhagic fever rose to 6,915 as of Dec. 14, according to the World Health Organization.
Liberia, once the prime hotspot of the Ebola outbreak, has seen the number of new infections drop dramatically over the past month, with some health officials citing improved burial practices as a major factor.
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