Last week, Victor Willoughby became the 11th Sierra Leonean doctor to die from Ebola.
It was a major blow. Sierra Leone already has suffered plenty in the Ebola epidemic. And Willoughby, 67, was one of the most experienced doctors in Sierra Leone.
Just being a medical doctor made him a valuable national resource: Sierra Leone has one of the lowest physician-per-resident ratios in the entire world. There were only an estimated 134 doctors for a nation with 6 million residents before the Ebola outbreak, according to The World Health Organization.
Now, the country has lost 8.2 percent of its doctors to Ebola in just 10 months.
To put that in perspective, that’s like 64,000 doctors dying from Ebola in the United States, which has more than 782,000 doctors.
And that doesn’t even fully capture how devastating Ebola has been in Sierra Leone. After all, the United States has 2.452 doctors per 1,000 residents — on par with countries such as the Britain, Jordan and Japan.
Sierra Leone, before Ebola, had a scant .022 doctors per 1,000 residents. That put it among the bottom five in the world.
The scale of the blow to Sierra Leone’s medical staff is hard to grasp.
Sierra Leone lost its top virologist, Sheik Humarr Khan, in July.
Modupeh Cole and Sahr Rogers in August.
Olivette Buck in September.
Godfrey George and Michael Kargbo in November.
In December, it’s been Dauda Koroma, Aiah Solomon Konoyeima and Thomas Rogers.
And then there was Martin Salia, a Sierra Leoneean native who lived in New Carrolton, Md., with his wife and two children. He returned to Sierra Leone to treat Ebola patients and was infected himself. He died Nov. 10 as he was being treated in Omaha, Neb.
Health-care workers in Sierra Leone, including doctors and nurses, face Ebola incidence rates 100-fold higher than other adults, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.
The study notes that preventing Ebola in health-care workers is “critical to sustain the health workforce to address all causes of morbidity and mortality in Sierra Leone.”
A WHO report published in early December reported 339 health-care worker deaths from Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Liberia led with 174 deaths, followed by Sierra Leone at 106 and Guinea at 59.
But the toll on Sierra Leone’s doctors has been particularly harsh.
And it is feeding alarm about the state of the country’s medical infrastructure once the Ebola epidemic finally ends.