ACCRA/FREETOWN (Reuters) - A medical official with the U.N. Mission in Liberia has tested positive for the Ebola virus and is receiving treatment, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
Separately, burial teams in neighboring Sierra Leone said they had ended a strike over unpaid bonuses that had left highly infectious bodies piling up, increasing the threat that the virus would spread further.
The world’s worst outbreak of Ebola on record has killed more than 3,879 people, most of them in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization.
It has overwhelmed weak health systems in West Africa and threatens to cost the region, trying to draw a line under years of civil war and political crises, tens of billions of dollars, according to the World Bank.
With cases now in Spain and the United State, countries outside the region are scrambling to ensure the disease does not spread if anyone infected with the virus crosses their borders. Britain has joined the United States in pledging troops to help build treatment centers in West Africa.
The unidentified medic infected in Liberia is the second member of the U.N. mission, known as UNMIL, to contract Ebola. The first died on Sept. 25.
The staff member reported having symptoms to UNMIL medics on Sunday, a statement said.
“The UNMIL medical team has conducted immediate and robust contact tracing to ensure all people that came into contact with both staff members while they were symptomatic are assessed and quarantined,” it said.
All staff members considered at risk have been isolated and ambulances and other locations have been decontaminated.
Of the West African nations battling Ebola, Liberia has been the hardest hit, with 2,210 deaths recorded, according to the latest figures released by the WHO.
Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told Reuters that there were early signs that the outbreak might be “in decline” despite aid arriving in her country too slowly.
However, the country is still in a state of emergency. Her office announced on Wednesday that an election for seats in the Senate, due on Oct. 14, had been put off until further notice.
Sierra Leone has had 879 confirmed, probable and suspected Ebola deaths. The strike there this week by burial teams of workers risked exposing more people to the virus, since the unburied bodies remained infectious.
“We decided to resume work after meeting today with ministry of health officials who have assured us that we will paid our two-week risk allowance,” said Abdul Rahman Parker, a leader of one of the teams.
However, underscoring tensions over pay and working conditions, nurses, lab technicians and burial teams in Kenema, home to a major Ebola treatment center in the northeast of the country, threatened to strike over four weeks unpaid wages.
“We cannot continue like this, and we will withhold our services if they do not pay us our backlog on Friday 10 October”, said Mohamed Sheriff, a nurse.
Sierra Leone’s government welcomed an announcement by Britain that it would be sending extra troops, aircraft and a naval vessel to Sierra Leone but said that medical personnel were still in short supply.
“This is good news. This is a bold and big step” Alpha Kanu, Sierra Leone’s information minister, told Reuters.
“In as much as we need equipment and money, we also need personnel. It would be good if most of the 750 were medics,” he said. “Everybody is saying that this Ebola fight is a war, therefore we need troops.”
Additional reporting by Alphonso Toweh; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Tom Heneghan