By Umaru Fofana
FREETOWN (Reuters) - The death toll from Ebola in Sierra Leone has doubled to at least 12 in a week, local health authorities said on Monday, deepening the spread of a disease that has killed over 200 people in Guinea and Liberia.
The mounting deaths in Sierra Leone, which had been spared cases for months after Ebola was confirmed in the region in March, underscore the challenges weak health systems face tackling one of the deadliest diseases on the planet.
Amara Jambai, Sierra Leone's Director of Disease Prevention and Control, said all the confirmed deaths in Sierra Leone were in the east, mainly in the Kailahun district on the border with Guinea.
"It is very difficult for us to ascertain community deaths at this moment, but the 12 deaths are the ones the hospital can definitely confirm to have died of Ebola," Jambai said.
Jambai added that there were now 42 confirmed cases of Ebola from 113 people tested and new cases had been recorded in the northern district of Kambia.
Ebola was confirmed in a remote corner of Guinea in March and then later spread to Guinea's distant capital, Conakry, and over the border into Liberia.
All suspected cases in Sierra Leone tested negative until last month and Jambai said that the disease was spreading as authorities are struggling to control the movement of people.
International medical experts have been dispatched to Sierra Leone but they face a combination of poor existing health systems and tensions among locals fueled by the lack of understanding over the disease.
Two weeks ago, relatives removed an Ebola patient from a treatment center in Koindu as they doubted the disease existed.
Iron ore producers London Mining and African Minerals have imposed some restrictions on staff in Sierra Leone as a result of the outbreak but the firms say their output has so far not been affected.
(Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)