In brief | Nation & World | 8-31-14


Ebola’s toll on health care in W. Africa hits hard, will be felt for years to come

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — When the dreaded Ebola virus began infecting people in the Sierra Leone town of Kenema, Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan and his team were on the front lines. After stepping out of his protective suit following hours on a sweltering ward, he would jump on the phone to coordinate with the Ministry of Health, to deal with personnel issues and tend to hospital business.

He was jovial but forceful. When he walked into a room everyone looked to him for direction and he gave it decisively, said Daniel Bausch, an American doctor who worked with Khan.

But then Khan tested positive for Ebola at the end of July and died soon after. He is one of at least two leading doctors in Sierra Leone who have died in the outbreak, which has also hit Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal. The World Health Organization says it has sickened a higher proportion of medical staff than any other on record, with 240 contracting Ebola and more than half of them dying.

The toll on health workers was felt immediately by grieving and frightened colleagues and by patients who had fewer people to attend to them, and it will likely set back health care systems — poorly equipped amid rampant poverty to begin with — for years to come.

“These are people who were the backbone” of efforts to improve struggling health systems, said Bausch, a professor of tropical medicine at Tulane University. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone “are trying to dig themselves out of years of stalled or retrograde development and making some progress. This is setting them back immeasurably.”

International group says it will take 20 years to build adequate housing for Gaza

JERUSALEM — An international organization involved in assessing post-conflict reconstruction says it will take 20 years under current levels of restrictions to rebuild the Gaza Strip’s battered and neglected housing stock following the war between Hamas and Israel.

Most of the new building would be to make up for the current housing deficit, rather than to address damage from fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants.

Meanwhile, appearing in a round of post-war interviews on Israeli TV channels, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was not ready to return to the negotiating table with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas unless he distances himself from Hamas militants. Hamas and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority have a unity government in Gaza.

Netanyahu has regularly condemned the formal Abbas-Hamas relationship.

The housing assessment by Shelter Cluster, chaired by the Norwegian Refugee Council with the participation of the U.N. refugee agency and the Red Cross, underscores the complexities involved in an overall reconstruction program for the Gaza Strip, which some Palestinian officials have estimated could cost in excess of $6 billion.

Nicaraguan officials: Rescuers reach 20 trapped gold miners; others still being sought

BONANZA, Nicaragua — Rescue workers and trapped miners alike frantically dug away at opposite sides of rock and mud that blocked a Nicaragua gold mine, finally succeeding in freeing at least 20 men. Efforts to reach five miners still missing continued Saturday.

Antonio Diaz said the miners tried to cheer each other up inside the dark, cold shaft, attacking the slide with their picks and shovels by the light of helmet lamps. But after 24 hours, they began feeling hungry and some started losing hope.

“The sadness of feeling yourself trapped in a hole is immense but I never lost hope,” said the 32-year-old miner from a hospital bed in the town of Bonanza, near the El Comal gold and silver mine. “I kept thinking I was too young to die and above all, I thought about my two daughters.”

He said the miners finally cut a hole through the blockage and started shouting, but at first there was no answer.

“Hours later, someone heard us, and when he answered us we felt life returning to our bodies,” Diaz said. “God had answered our pleas to keep living.”

By wire sources