Cuban doctor sick with Ebola to be flown to Geneva for treatment

A Cuban doctor who was infected with the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone is being flown to Switzerland for treatment, diplomats and World Health Organization officials said Wednesday.

A WHO official said the agency recommended the evacuation of the doctor.

According to a statement from Cuba’s Ministry of Health, Dr. Felix Baez, a specialist in internal medicine, tested positive for the Ebola virus Monday. He was being cared for by a team of British health care professionals at Kerry Town, an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, when the decision was made to send him to Geneva.

Cuban diplomats told McClatchy that his condition was stable. A Swiss diplomat said Baez was expected to arrive Thursday in Geneva, where he’ll be treated at Geneva University Hospital.

Cuba has contributed 256 medical staff to battling the Ebola outbreak in the three most affected countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Of those, 165 have been assigned to Sierra Leone, 53 to Liberia and 38 to Guinea.

On Wednesday, WHO reported that as of Sunday, 584 health care workers have been infected with Ebola, of whom 329 had died.

It was unclear how Baez was to be flown to Geneva. Only a few aircraft are properly equipped to fly Ebola-infected patients. Most of the evacuations to date have been carried out by Phoenix Air, a Carterville, Ga., charter service that is under contract to the U.S. State Department to handle Ebola evacuations. Each evacuation can cost around $200,000, according to published reports. Phoenix Air did not respond to a request for comment.

Concerns about how health care professionals who contract Ebola would be treated has remained one of the reasons WHO and other international medical groups cite for the difficulty they’ve had in attraacting the thousands of staff needed to respond to the epidemic.

Another Cuban health care worker, Jorge Juan Rodriguez, 60, an economist and administrator, is reported to have died of cerebral malaria in late October in Guinea because he was not flown out for the specialized treatment required.

Sierra Leone now has become the epicenter of the epidemic, with the number of cases there still increasing, WHO said Wednesday. That is no longer the case in Guinea and Liberia, it said.

WHO said that through Sunday, a total of 15,145 people had fallen ill with the virus and 5,420 had died.