Cases in Ebola outbreak region top 23,000

The number of confirmed, probable, and suspected Ebola cases in the three main outbreak countries passed the 23,000 mark today, with children in Liberia returning to school amid the country's steep decline in cases but with responders still struggling with new community-resistance incidents in Guinea.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in an update today put the overall number in those two countries and Sierra Leone at 23,182 cases, an increase of 183 cases since the group's last report on Feb 13. The number of deaths has risen to 9,353, representing 100 more than the WHO reported 3 days ago.

Ebola infections and deaths included in today's WHO report reflect cases reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone as of Feb 14 and ones in Liberia as of Feb 12.

Schools reopening, some with difficulty

Meanwhile, schools in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, reopened today, 6 months after the country's health ministry shuttered them to curb the spread of the disease. In measures designed to open the schools safely, health officials distributed about 5,000 kits containing thermometers and chlorine for hand washing, the Associated Press (AP) reported today. The country's health ministry has limited class sizes to about 50 instead of 100 to avoid overcrowding, and students' temperatures are being taken as they enter the school.

Schools started reopening in Guinea on Jan 19, and Sierra Leone's are scheduled to reopen on Mar 30.

The start of school in Guinea got off to a rocky start in certain areas, with some parents afraid to send their children owing to fear of infection.

Details about a round of community resistance in Guinea's capital, Conakry, were fleshed out today by the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in its daily update. Apparently rumors have been circulating in the community that Ebola responders will spray and disinfect the schools, fueling fears of contamination. National officials have repeated that public areas won't be sprayed and that the practice is limited to the homes of Ebola patients.

Community resistance hampers progress

According to today's UNMEER report, a crowd burned an Ebola treatment unit, a Doctors without Borders (MSF) office, and a vehicle. UNMEER's crisis manager in Guinea, Abdou Dieng, condemned the attacks against national and international responders and called for communities to cooperate.

The WHO has said community resistance is one of the ongoing challenges hampering progress in battling the disease, especially in Guinea and to a lesser extent in Sierra Leone. On Feb 12 the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Cross Societies (IFRC) issued a statement about ongoing attacks on its workers in Guinea and asked national and international groups to redouble their community sensitization efforts in the troubled areas to tamp down the public's fears and misconceptions about the disease.

Expenditures in Sierra Leone questioned

In other developments, an internal audit of Ebola response expenditures in Sierra Leone recently found that about one third of expenditures didn't include a receipt or the necessary paperwork to justify them, and the government today vowed to launch a full investigation, according to a separate AP story.

The audit report got its first airing in Sierra Leone's parliament last week, and it found that $5.75 million in spending had no or incomplete documentation. The total is about one third of the $19.32 million that the accountants reviewed, the AP said, adding that the report examined donations earmarked for the Ebola fight that the government received directly from May through October.

See also:

Feb 16 WHO Ebola update

Feb 16 AP story on Liberian schools

Feb 16 UNMEER update

Feb 16 AP story on spending probe

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