The lead doctor battling Sierra Leone’s recent Ebola outbreak has died from the disease, officials there confirmed Tuesday.
Sheik Umar Khan has been credited with treating more than 100 patients suffering amidst the country’s worst outbreak on record of the viral disease.
The 39-year-old doctor was hailed as a national hero by Sierra Leone’s chief medical officer, Brima Kargbo.
“It is a big and irreparable loss to Sierra Leone as he was the only specialist the country had in viral hemorrhagic fevers,” Kargbo told Reuters.
Khan died only a week after his diagnosis was announced to the public. He was being treated in a facility run by Doctors Without Borders in the northern part of the country.
The recent Ebola outbreak began in February and is believed to have killed 672 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since that time.
The disease is spread through contact with bodily fluids such as saliva, sweat, blood and urine. Initial symptoms of Ebola infection mimic those of a common flu and include fever, aches and sore throat. As the disease progresses, patients suffer from severe vomiting, diarrhea and internal bleeding.
There is no vaccine for Ebola and no specific treatment plan. It has a fatality rate of at least 60 percent.
The health systems and government officials in the impoverished African countries have struggled to contain the outbreak.
Binyah Kesselly, chairman of the Liberia Airport Authority board, told The Associated Press that police have been stationed at the main airport in Monrovia to enforce the screening of passengers for signs of the virus.
“So if you have a flight and you are not complying with the rules, we will not allow you to board,” he said.
The West African airline ASKY announced Tuesday it would suspend all flights to and from Sierra Leone and Liberia. A statement from the airline also said it would no longer carry food from Guinea, where the outbreak is believed to have begun.
“ASKY is determined to keep its passengers and staff safe during this unsettling time,” the statement said.
Nigeria's largest airline, Arik Air, has also suspended flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone because of the Ebola risk.
A White House official told Reuters Monday that President Obama was receiving regular updates about the crisis and that U.S. agencies had stepped up assistance to help contain the disease.