LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. In West Africa, the number of deaths from Ebola has climbed to nearly 1,000, with almost 2,000 people infected with the virus across four countries. Regional governments are struggling to contain the spread of Ebola. Relief agencies welcome the global emergency declared by the World Health Organization in response to the outbreak, but they warn statements won't save lives. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: West Africans are feeling the crushing and lethal impact of Ebola, and they're calling for urgent assistance - resources, logistics and, especially, more manpower on the ground to help battle the virus. Ebola was first detected in Guinea, slipped across the border into Sierra Leone and spread to neighboring Liberia. These fragile post-war health systems are buckling under the strain. In response to the outbreak, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a state of emergency on Thursday.
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PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF: The Ebola virus disease - the ramifications and consequences thereof now constitute an unrest affecting the existing security of the Republic amounting to a clear and present danger.
QUIST-ARCTON: Alarming reports from Liberia speak of families dumping dead bodies on the street rather than face quarantine by the military. Here in Sierra Leone, the public health emergency declared last week also imposed radical measures to try to combat the spread of Ebola. Soldiers have been deployed to quarantine hotspots in the east, where the virus has hit hardest. The blockade effectively seals off two districts. Sierra Leone's military spokesman, Colonel Michael Samura...
COLONEL MICHAEL SAMURA: Nobody goes in, nobody comes out - it is because of this rampant movement here and there - indiscriminate movement - that we have had an escalation in the cases of Ebola.
QUIST-ARCTON: Critical goods and food will be allowed in and out, as well as doctors and health workers. But Ebola is a frightening disease, unknown here in West Africa until this recent outbreak. And it's taking time for people to understand it. Like street trader, Kadiatu Kano - she says she favors the troop deployment.
KADIATU KANO: (Through translator) I'm happy that the soldiers have been involved because what they are doing is to help protect us and secure our lives. So I appreciate their involvement.
QUIST-ARCTON: After a sluggish initial response, there's now a determination to crack down on those hiding sick people believed to be infected with Ebola or taking them to traditional healers. Sierra Leone’s military spokesman, Colonel Samura, acknowledges that the drastic new security strategy is somewhat belated.
SAMURA: Yes, indeed. I think we have been very lenient initially, and that was the main reason why we had a spread of this Ebola virus all over the place. Where because people were recalcitrant. They were lawless. They refused to adhere to instructions. They were attacking ambulances, attacking health centers here and there. That is why the situation has worsened to this extent.
QUIST-ARCTON: The consequences for West Africa are already being felt. Some regional and international airlines have suspended flights to and from Sierra Leone and Liberia. Africa's giant, Nigeria, which has recorded two Ebola deaths to date and almost a dozen confirmed cases, has also just imposed a national emergency. This has sent shockwaves across the region. Other countries are being warned to beef up their Ebola preparedness. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.