Monrovia: Remembering those who have died in the world's deadliest Ebola outbreak, Liberia's president has opened one of the country's largest Ebola treatment centres in Monrovia amid hopes that the disease is finally on the decline in this West African country.
American and UN officials as well as Cuban doctors were in the crowd as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf opened the treatment centre yesterday, which is set up to hold 200 patients and can eventually treat as many as 300.
With the opening of the centre, an Ebola treatment unit at JFK Medical Centre has been closed. Many people with other diseases had been nervous about going to the nation's largest referral hospital, and officials hope they will now come back.
The opening of the centre, built out of white plastic sheeting with USAID written across it, comes as fewer people are showing up for treatment at various centres.
Officials are not sure how to interpret that. Some believe it's a sign that the Ebola outbreak is finally on the wane in Liberia.
"It is heartening to see that we are finally perhaps catching up with that boulder if not in front of it. It was rolling down the hill at a speed that we were never going to catch, we thought, two months ago, but we're starting to make progress," said US Ambassador Deborah Malac.
Others believe Sirleaf's order that the bodies of Ebola victims in the capital be cremated has led to people with symptoms hiding at home, because cremation violates traditions.
Doctors Without Borders, known as MSF, said that as of Tuesday there were around 80 patients in its 250-bed facility.
"MSF teams are looking into the reasons for this; a widespread aversion to the government's mandatory cremation policy, poor ambulance and referral systems, changes in behaviour, and other factors may play a role," the aid group said.
Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah, who heads the government's Ebola response, told The Associated Press the JFK Ebola medical team and a team of Cuban doctors will be in charge of the new centre, located in Congo Town in eastern Monrovia.
The World Health Organisation said this week that the rate of infection in Liberia appears to be falling but warned that the response effort must be kept up or the trend could be reversed.
The international community's response was late and figures were mostly wrong, Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told reporters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
He said he is concerned about the "huge discrepancy" between announcements and the situation on the ground in the Ebola-affected countries.
More than 13,500 people have been sickened by the disease, and nearly 5,000 have died, the World Health Organisation said yesterday.