Healthcare facilities in West Africa reach capacity as Ebola continues to spread

As health workers continue to battle the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, health care facilities in the most badly affected areas have reached capacity, and doctors are no longer able to accept new patients.

The Ebola virus has caused more than 1,400 deaths in the region, as of Aug. 29. According to the World Health Organization, the estimated number of cases has surpassed 3,000 in affected countries, including Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Epidemiologists and healthcare workers have been dispatched to the area to help coordinate international health organizations' efforts to contain the spread of the disease, but the task has become more difficult as treatment and isolation facilities reach capacity.

Doctors Without Borders said last week that its newest Ebola management center-known as ELWA3-in the Liberian capital of Monrovia has already reached capacity with 120 patients.

The outbreak has spread rapidly in the city, where much of the city's medical system has shut down as a result of fears regarding the spread of the disease and many people lack basic medical care.

"The numbers of patients we are seeing is unlike anything we've seen in previous outbreaks," Lindis Hurum, a Doctors Without Borders emergency coordinator in Monrovia, said. "Our guidelines were written for an Ebola center with 20 beds, and now we are expanding beyond 120 beds. The situation means we have to constantly adapt and we are recruiting and training health and hygiene staff day and night. The priorities now are maintaining a safe facility; separating suspected, probable, and confirmed cases; and providing compassionate care."

According to the WHO, the problem extends beyond Liberia to neighboring countries also affected by the viral outbreak. In Sierra Leone, there are not enough beds to accommodate all patients in the capital of Freetown, and patients must be transferred to a nearby facility that is already overwhelmed with cases.

Brice de le Vingne, the director of operations at Doctors Without Borders, criticized the international response to the outbreak as inadequate.

"It is simply unacceptable that, five months after the declaration of this Ebola outbreak, serious discussions are only starting now about international leadership and coordination," de le Vingne said. "Self-protection is occupying the entire focus of states that have the expertise and resources to make a dramatic difference in the affected countries. They can do more, so why don't they?"