FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — As more Ebola cases emerged around the capital, Sierra Leone's president warned that the country won't win the war against the epidemic until people change their behavior, including refraining from touching the sick and the dead.
The West African country is one of the hardest hit in the Ebola outbreak that has sickened more than 10,000 people. In Sierra Leone alone, nearly 3,900 people are believed to have caught the disease, according to World Health Organization figures.
The government's own numbers show a steady rise in confirmed cases reported in the capital and surrounding areas. On Tuesday night, for instance, 26 new confirmed cases were reported in the country's western districts, which include Freetown, during the previous 24 hours. Similar or higher numbers have been reported every day for those districts in recent days. In Bombali district, in the north, 32 new confirmed cases were reported.
On a visit this weekend to some of those hard-hit areas, President Ernest Bai Koroma said several treatment centers are being built around the country, but that the battle will only be won when people start following the experts' advice: avoid touching the sick or those who may have died of Ebola, don't wash the bodies of the dead and quickly report to health centers if you fall ill.
If attitudes don't change, "we will continue to work without results," he said, according to a government statement released late Tuesday.
Koroma said that areas in the country's far east — where the outbreak first hit Sierra Leone — have seen a marked decline in cases because they are following the recommendations.
He encouraged traditional leaders to help spread the message about how Ebola is transmitted and how to prevent it. Rumors, misinformation and fear have greatly hampered the ability to curtail the outbreak, which has also severely affected Liberia and Guinea. People have sought bogus cures, attacked health workers they thought were responsible for the disease and hid in their homes for fear that Ebola treatment centers are simply places to go to die.
"We are at war with terror, so we have to put in place military tactics to win this war," he said.
Koroma this month appointed Defense Minister Alfred Palo Conteh as CEO of the National Ebola Response Center, whose headquarters are being placed at the former War Crimes Tribunal for Sierra Leone in the west end of Freetown together with the local office of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response.