Oct 26, 2014

A Visit to Freetown's Ebola Treatment Centers

Sierra Leone is racing to construct Ebola treatment centers to treat existing Ebola patients and the many new cases that are expected to arise in the coming months (see Ebola Chart 4). Many of the new beds are slated to be in the Western Area, which is currently reporting the highest number of new infections. On Thursday, October, 23, we took a trip around the region's Ebola treatment centers.

Emergency Ebola Treatment Center
Our first stop was at the Emergency Ebola Treatment Center, run by staff from the Italian-led Emergency Hospital. The Emergency Ebola Treatment Center is a 22-bed tented facility erected within the grounds of theEmergency Ebola Treatment Center Lakka Tuberculosis Hospital on the Peninsula Rd west of Freetown. We found basic tarpaulin structures crammed into one end of the compound. Nevertheless the facility appeared to us to be well run, with good infection control protocols in place and courteous, experienced and well-motivated staff  (see Inside an Ebola treatment center).

A scenic drive over the peninsula mountains along the new Regent-Grafton Highway took us to the other side of town and eventually to Kerry Town, some four miles from Waterloo along the Peninsula Rd to the East of Freetown. For an ebola treatment center, the site is suitably remote from population centers and other human activity. We found a tented facility, but spacious and professionally laid out.

Kerry Town Ebola Treatment Center

We were surprised to find construction far from complete, despite pronouncements by the Sierra Leone government and the project's sponsors, the British government that the facility would be open by the end of October. This appeared unlikely, as workmen, heavy machines and building materials were much in evidence about the compound. The 100-bed facility is the first of Britain's promised sponsorship of 700 beds to fight the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

Hastings Ebola CenterRetracing our steps back along the Freetown-Waterloo Highway, we arrived at the Hastings Ebola Treatment Center. This is currently the only Ebola treatment center in the country being run by the government, and government officials have been keen to point out its successes (see Hastings Ebola Treatment Center Discharges 49 Survivors). It is housed in single-storey concrete structures, part of pre-existing buildings on the spacious grounds of the Police Training School. We entered the facility without encountering any infection control protocols and observed staff lounging about the compound apparently without assigned duties. We were unable to speak to anyone in authority, as permission from the Minister of Health was required.

A short drive from the Hastings center found us at the Chinese hospital at Jui. This is a large, impressive, multi-storey building recently constructed and opened by the Chinese government. Initially a general hospital, the Ebola outbreak has forced the transformation of the facility to an Ebola center.

Chinese Jui Ebola Center

However, as we found out, it is not a treatment center but a holding center, designated to keep suspected Ebola cases for short periods of time whilst their Ebola lab tests are being conducted. Those confirmed positive are sent on to one of the treatment centers. The facility does have an Ebola testing laboratory on site, so lab results can be expedited.With the size of this facility, though, and the fact that for now it is not operating as a general hospital, we wonder whether it could not be transformed from a holding center to a treatment center.