The number of deaths from the Ebola virus in West Africa is still rising, but the rate of infections is decreasing in Liberia, one of the hardest hit West African nations.

The number of Ebola deaths in West Africa has climbed to 5,420, but there is encouraging news in Liberia.

The New York Times reports that Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a press call that the international response to West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, as well as action by local communities, has stopped the exponential spread of the virus in Liberia.

“There’s been a substantial change in the trend. There is no longer exponential increase; in fact, there’s been a decrease in the rate of infections in Liberia,” said Frieden, during a call with reporters.

Health officials are still concerned about the rate of infections in Guinea and Sierra Leone. More than 500 new cases and 63 deaths were reported in Sierra Leone last week alone.

Frieden is calling for increased international aid, particularly from Britain, to decrease the numbers in Sierra Leone.

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Dr. Martin Salia, a surgeon who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone and was transported to Nebraska Medical Center, died Monday, despite heroic attempts to save his life. Salia is the second Ebola patient to die in the United States. Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man, died in October after being diagnosed at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

Salia was reportedly unconscious, his kidneys had failed, and he was having trouble breathing by the time he got to Nebraska Medical Center, where a team had successfully treated Ebola patients Dr. Rick Sacra and NBC journalist Ashoka Mukpo.

Dr. Moses Kargbo, a retired medical officer in Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health, who had volunteered at a government hospital in the central Tonkolili district, also recently died from Ebola.

Felix Baez, a Cuban doctor working in Sierra Leone, who was flown to Switzerland on Friday for treatment at University Hospital of Geneva, was reported to be in stable condition.

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The Times of India reported that a 26-year-old Indian who was treated and cured of Ebola virus disease in Liberia has been quarantined at the Delhi airport’s health facility after having tested positive twice. Although his blood samples were repeatedly found to be free of Ebola, the virus showed up in his semen.

A Reuters report said that two travelers who returned recently from West Africa tested negative for Ebola yesterday at hospitals in New York and Missouri. They will stay under observation while awaiting additional confirmation of the results, health officials said.

In a separate development, a woman who died of an apparent heart attack at a Brooklyn, New York hair salon and who had come to the United States almost three weeks ago from Guinea, tested negative for the virus.

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According to an NBC report, the tab for treating two Ebola patients at the University of Nebraska’s Medical Center (UNMC) topped $1 million. Ten patients have been treated in the United States at UNMC, Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, and Bellevue Hospital in New York.

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In testimony at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight subcommittee, Dr. Jeffrey Gold, UNMC’s chancellor, urged Congress to approve funding and policies for full reimbursement of these costs. “These are patients that federal government directed to UNMC and Emory,” said Gold.

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Meanwhile, President Barack Obama made his pitch to top health officials this week for his previously proposed $6.2 billion in funding to combat Ebola, saying that future risks can be minimized if Congress acts now. “We are nowhere near out of the woods yet in West Africa,” Obama said.

Officials also announced that citizens of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone currently in the United States will be allowed to remain and apply for Temporary Protected Status for 18 months because of the Ebola crisis.

Photo courtesy of EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection/CC