By Staff Reporter
Residents cannot understand why beds are empty but Save the Children says phased opening is necessary to protect staff
The Ebola hospital built by the British army which opened two weeks ago in the capital of Sierra Leone will not be fully operational until January, it has emerged.
The facility was the first of six hospitals announced by the Department of International Development two months ago as part of Britain’s £250m assistance in the fight against Ebola in the country.
And while DFID’s plan has always been to phase in the facility, residents cannot understand why beds are empty while patients have nowhere to go because existing treatment centres are full.
The 80-bed hospital has treated just 18 patients so far.
Save the Children, which is managing the facility in Kerry Town, south of the capital Freetown, said it was increasing intake slowly to ensure the safety of its volunteer medical professionals.
“We are scaling up as fast as we can,” said a spokeswoman. “People are turning up, people are wanting to go in.”
She said the hospital was following a model used by Médecins Sans Frontières and under the direction of the clinical professionals leading the operation.
“The initial plan was always to take in five patients at first, the same as MSF. If you had 80 patients in at once it would not be safe. The risk of infection is too great.
“If we did it faster than the doctors want us to, then we risk infections and then undermine the whole operation. Our first priority is health workers.”
“The aim is that early next year it will be up to full capacity,” the spokeswoman added.
But the hype surrounding the Kerry Town facility’s opening in the wake of Justine Greening’s visit to Sierra Leone has given rise to false hope locally that it would double the bed capacity in the area overnight.
Umaru Fofana, a prominent local journalist, told his followers on Twitter and Facebook: “I’m shocked & surprised to learn that after such fanfare about its opening exactly 2 weeks ago, the Kerry Town has only SIX patients. The British-built facility has 80 available beds and there are patients without a bed. Save The Children who run the facility owe us an explanation.”
One of his followers responded: “The whole idea of Kerry Town is a sham!” complaining that “The British … instead of saving lives they have embarked in a huge media campaign.”
The latest figures from the Ministry of Health show confirmed Ebola patient numbers have rocketed by 40% since the hospital opened on 5 November, with 1,700 confirmed infections compared to 1,200 almost three weeks ago.
The centre is the first of six being constructed by the British government as part of the effort to stop the spread of the disease that will be run by different organisations. The hospital in Port Loko will be run by international humanitarian agency Goal; the one in Hastings, Freetown, by the Aspen foundation; a hospital in Makeni will be run by the global healthcare organisation International Medical Corps; one in Goderich, Freetown, by Italian-based medical charity Emergency; and one in Moyamba will be run by the Spanish branch of charity Médecins du Monde with a French team from Solidarités International.
The extra hospitals were due to be opened by mid December, said a DFID spokesman.
DFID said it was not in a position to comment on Kerry Town. “We handed over the facility to Save the Children but we always said it would take weeks before it was fully open”.