Ebola aid held up at port in Sierra Leone; government says fees now paid to clear shipment

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FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — A shipping container filled with medical gear and mattresses to help in the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone has been held up at a port for more than a month, an opposition politician said Tuesday.

Alpha Chernor Bah said the container is one of four worth a total of $500,000 that he has arranged for shipment from the U.S. to Sierra Leone as aid.

"I am trying to help because this is a public health emergency to save lives," he told The Associated Press. "The country is in a crisis period and there should be no red tape in clearing the container from the port."

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is believed to have killed at least 3,500 people, hitting Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea the hardest. The gap of what has been sent or promised by other countries and private groups and what is needed is still huge. Beds are filling up quickly too in these countries that had too few doctors and nurses to begin with, and a tremendous number of infections in health care workers during the outbreak has only further reduced their numbers.

The 40-foot container arrived at the port on Aug. 9, Bah said. It is full of medical gear, such as gloves, gowns, stretchers, face masks, as well as mattresses.

Special adviser to the president, Oswald Hanciles, said Tuesday that the shipping fees for the container have been paid by the government, clearing the way for the container.

Alpha Sheriff, Procurement Officer for the Ministry of Health and Sanitation said the necessary documents to release the container will be provided Wednesday, and the shipment should then be out of the port.

"Now that the delay at the port has become international news, it has become an embarrassment for the government," Bah said.

Bah was an opposition National Democratic Alliance candidate in the 2012 Parliamentary elections, but lost to a candidate from the Ruling All People's Congress party.

Aid workers in West Africa say they need more than just gloves and supplies. They need more people willing to come here despite the personal risks.

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