FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone’s president visited the center of an Ebola outbreak on Monday as West African leaders stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the deadly virus.
It was Ernest Bai Koroma’s first visit to the northeastern district of Kenema since the start of the epidemic that has killed some 672 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), making it the worst outbreak yet.
Sierra Leone has the highest number of Ebola cases, at 525, surpassing neighboring Guinea where the virus was first reported in February. A Liberian man died of the disease in Nigeria last week.
The president headed to Kenema by helicopter after a prayer session at the national stadium in the capital Freetown to mark the end of the Muslim month of fasting.
Koroma, a Christian, told the Muslim congregation that he planned to visit Sheik Umar Khan, the country’s leading Ebola doctor who tested positive for the virus last week.
Khan is now a patient at an Ebola treatment center run by the French charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Kailahun.
However, Information Minister Alpha Kanu told Reuters that Koroma had been unable to reach Kailahun because of lack of fuel and had returned to Freetown after stopping in Kenema. The president would travel to Kailahun on Tuesday, Kanu said.
Several other medical staff have contracted the disease, including two American doctors working in Liberia.
Koroma said on Saturday the government planned to step up efforts to containing the disease with a view to ending the outbreak within 60 to 90 days.
The new strategy will focus on contact tracing, surveillance, communications and social mobilization, social services, logistics and supplies, he said.
Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Robin Pomeroy