The State Department on Thursday ordered family members of U.S. embassy employees in Sierra Leone to evacuate the country’s capital, Freetown, due to worries that the ongoing Ebola crisis is overwhelming medical facilities there.
“The embassy [in Sierra Leone] recommended this step out of an abundance of caution, following the determination by the Department’s Medical Office that there is a lack of options for routine health care services at major medical facilities due to the Ebola outbreak,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
The agency added that it is “reconfiguring” staff at the embassy in Freetown “to be more responsive to the current situation.” That includes focusing on helping U.S. citizens in the country, as well as working with Sierra Leone’s government and international health and non-government relief organizations.
“We remain deeply committed to supporting Sierra Leone and regional and international efforts to strengthen the capacity of the country’s health care infrastructure and system,” Harf said, “specifically, the capacity to contain and control the transmission of the Ebola virus, and deliver health care.”
Asked about the number of family members leaving Sierra Leone, and the number of embassy and consular staff remaining, Harf said, “We don’t give exact numbers in any of our posts for security reasons.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. government also ordered family members of the embassy in Liberia to leave that country’s capital, of Monrovia. The agency cited similar concerns about the deteriorating public health system there as the outbreak worsened.
Harf said that embassies with consular services remain open, and that the agency is “taking a look” at situation in Guinea to determine whether family members of U.S. personnel there also should be evacuated.
Previously, the Peace Corps and some international aid groups have temporarily pulled hundreds of volunteers and employees out of affected areas.
Thursday’s action comes as the worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history continues to deepen. According to the latest update from the World Health Organization, the death toll in the four countries struggling to contain the virus has climbed to 1,069, with a total of 1,975 reported cases.
Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.