PARIS/MONROVIA (Reuters) - A French volunteer working for Medecins Sans Frontieres in Liberia has contracted Ebola, the medical charity said on Wednesday, adding that seven local staff members have already fallen ill from the deadly virus.
The volunteer, the first French national and MSF’s first international staff member to catch the disease in the outbreak, was put in quarantine on Tuesday when early symptoms of the illness appeared, according to an MSF statement.
She will be evacuated to France in a special medical plane in line with the country’s evacuation plan, the French government said.
MSF is the leading organization fighting the worst Ebola outbreak on record, with more than 2,000 staff members working across West Africa.
Healthcare workers account for hundreds of the infected in an outbreak that has already killed nearly 2,500 people and infected close to 5,000 across Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
But most cases have occurred in government healthcare centers, often due to a lack of vigilance or resources to buy the protective equipment against the highly contagious virus, which spreads through bodily fluids.
“For this epidemic, seven national staffs contracted the virus and three of them died,” MSF emergency coordinator Laurence Sailly told reporters in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, on Wednesday, revealing the extent of MSF’s exposure for the first time.
She did not give further details on the other cases.
MSF said it applies very strict protection protocols for its staff and that it planned to launch an investigation into the French worker’s case. Its Ebola treatment center in Monrovia known as ELWA 3 will not accept new patients until the probe was completed, Sailly added.
MSF President Joanne Liu had previously warned that infection among its own staff could exacerbate the outbreak by spreading it further among the healthy.
“One of our biggest things is that we do not want our staff to get infected. Because if this happens, then that is how things really collapse quickly,” she said in an August interview.
The World Health Organization has previously warned that the number of cases in West Africa could climb as high as 20,000 as ill-equipped governments in one of the poorest regions of the world struggle to contain it.
U.S. President Barack Obama has called Ebola a major threat to global security and announced a major expansion of his country’s role in stopping its spread, including deployment of 3,000 troops to the region.
Additional reporting by Daniel Flynn; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Jonathan Oatis