The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday it had shut a laboratory in Sierra Leone after a health worker there was infected with Ebola, a move that may hamper efforts to boost the global response to the worst ever outbreak of the disease.
At least 1,427 people have died and 2,615 have been infected since the disease was detected deep in the forests of southeastern Guinea in March.
The WHO has deployed nearly 400 of its own staff and partner organisations to fight the epidemic of the highly contagious hemorrhagic fever, which has struck Sierra Leone, Liberia,
Guinea and Nigeria. A separate outbreak was confirmed in Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday.
Nigeria's health minister said on Tuesday his country had "thus far contained" the Ebola outbreak.
One of the deadliest diseases known to man, Ebola is transmitted by contact with body fluids and the current outbreak has killed at least 120 healthcare workers.
The WHO said it had withdrawn staff from the laboratory testing for Ebola at Kailahun, one of only two in Sierra Leone after a Senegalese epidemiologist was infected with Ebola.
"It's a temporary measure to take care of the welfare of our remaining workers," WHO spokesperson Christy Feig said, without specifying how long the measure would last. "After our
assessment, they will return."
Feig said she could not assess what impact the withdrawal of WHO staff would have on the fight against Ebola in the Kailahun, the area hardest hit by the disease. The WHO said in a later statement that staff would return after an investigation was completed, adding that testing would continue in the meantime at the Kenema laboratory.
The Senegalese medic- the first worker deployed by WHO to be infected will be evacuated from Sierra Leone in the coming days, Feig said. He is currently being treated at a government hospital in the eastern town of Kenema.
With its resources stretched by the West African outbreak, medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Tuesday it could provide only limited help to tackle Congo's outbreak.
A report from the UN mission in Congo on Tuesday said 13 people there had died from Ebola, including five health workers.
Congo said on Sunday it would quarantine the area around the town of Djera, in the isolated northwestern jungle province of Equateur, where a high number of suspected cases has been reported. It is Congo's seventh outbreak since Ebola was discovered in 1976 in Equateur, near the Ebola river.
Congo's Health Minister Felix Kabange Numbi said on Sunday the outbreak in Equateur was a different strain of the virus from the deadly Zaire version in West Africa, although further
tests are planned in a German laboratory.
"Usually, we would be able to mobilise specialist hemorrhagic fever teams, but we are currently responding to a massive epidemic in West Africa," said Jeroen Beijnberger, MSF
medical coordinator in Congo. "This is limiting our capacity to respond to the epidemic in Equateur Province."
However, the charity said it would send doctors, nurses and logistics experts to the region and would work with the government to open an Ebola case management centre in Lokolia.
Louise Roland-Gosselin, deputy head of mission for MSF in Congo, said Congolese Ebola experts working in West Africa should return to their own country to assist with the local
outbreak. "MSF can't do it alone," she added.
The WHO plans to send protective equipment for medical staff in Equateur.
A 65-year-old woman with Ebola-like symptoms died in the Equateur's capital Mbandaka, health workers said on Tuesday, raising concerns of a possible spread to an urban centre.
Health Minister Kabange Numbi confirmed the death but said the cause was not yet known.