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Medical Aid Group: Liberia's Ebola Cases Spiral Upward


Liberia is struggling to build quarantine facilities quickly enough to keep up with the spread of Ebola. Most new cases are coming in that country. And in the capital Monrovia, Doctors Without Borders is building the largest Ebola isolation ward ever created. It will have 120 beds and, hopefully, will be open this weekend. But the rapid increase in new cases means it will, quickly, be full. NPR's Jason Beaubien in is Monrovia.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: The Doctors Without Borders emergency coordinator in Monrovia, Lindis Hurum, is overwhelmed, and she's not afraid to admit it.

LINDIS HURUM: The scale of this outbreak is just getting bigger every day. I've been there for six weeks, and I've seen that it's getting worse every day.

BEAUBIEN: She's standing in the construction site of what will soon be an Ebola field hospital. The large white canvas tents that will serve as the isolation wards have already been erected. The decontamination zone where workers will get in and out of their protective suits is finished.

HURUM: And on this side, you will have the suspect cases and on this side, the confirmed cases - at least in an ideal world. And over there, you have latrines and the waste zone.

BEAUBIEN: a morgue is being built in the back of the compound. There are only two Ebola isolation wards in Liberia - one in the Northwest of the country and one here in the capital. They had been run by the American Christian relief group, Samaritan's Purse, until several of their staff members got infected and they suspended their operations. This new hospital will replace the still overflowing Ebola ward that Samaritan's Purse had been running here. But Hurum says the spread of the virus in West Africa is outpacing the overall response and outstripping her group's capacity.

HURUM: I think it's fair to say that we have Doctors Without Borders, but we are not without limits. And we've reached our limit, and it's very frustrating because I see the huge needs, and I simply don't have the room and the resources. We have the money. We have the will. We certainly have the motivation, but I don't have enough people to deal with this.

BEAUBIEN: Part of the problem is that many local healthcare workers who she'd normally try to recruit to work here are terrified of the decease. After watching their colleagues get sick and die from the virus, many have refused to work. This has prompted entire hospitals to close here in Liberia. This Ebola outbreak is the largest ever recorded. It also is unprecedented in the way it spread through large, congested urban areas. Most other outbreaks have been in isolated parts of Central Africa. Monrovia, however, is a sprawling city of roughly a million people.

HURUM: And it's all over the city at this point in all layers of society - up to the very top level. People going to the dinner with president, I mean, it's really at that level all the way down to the taxi drivers. So it's a very democratic disease in that sense.

BEAUBIEN: And in a bustling West African city, it's very hard to contain.

HURUM: We're going to see the situation get a lot worse in Monrovia before it gets better.

BEAUBIEN: So rather than just responding to an outbreak in one small village in the Congo, this time Hurum and other aid workers have an epidemic that spread across four countries and reached the capital cities of some of the poorest countries on earth. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Monrovia, Liberia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.