It’ll take six months to contain Ebola—Doctors Without Borders
GENEVA (Reuters) – It will take about six months to bring under control the Ebola epidemic, the head of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) (Doctors Without Borders) said yesterday, saying the outbreak in West Africa felt like “wartime, is moving, advancing.”
Simultaneously, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the scale of the Ebola outbreak appeared to be “vastly underestimated”, as the death toll from the disease reaches 1,069.
Joanne Liu, international president of MSF, speaking after a 10-day trip to West Africa, said more experts were needed on the ground and was critical of the WHO) for declaring Ebola a “public health emergency of international concern” only on August 8.
“We need people with a hands-on operational mindset,” to combat the outbreak, Liu told a news briefing in Geneva.
Liu said she had conveyed those messages to the WHO and “that I think the wake-up call was too late in calling it a public health emergency of international concern.”
“I think we have a common understanding on it now,” Liu said. “Now we have to find out how that is translated into concrete action in the field … a statement will save lives only if followed up on the ground.”
On Thursday, the WHO said staff in West Africa had seen evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the scale of the Ebola outbreak and said it would coordinate “a massive scaling up of the international response”.
The death toll from the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola stood on Wednesday at 1,069 from 1,975 confirmed, probable and suspected cases. The majority were in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, while four people have died in Nigeria.
“If we don’t stabilise Liberia, we will never stabilise the region. Over the next six months we should get the upper hand on the epidemic, this is my gut feeling,” Liu said.
The WHO admitted that ”extraordinary measures” were needed to deal with Ebola.
However, the WHO said the risk of transmission of Ebola during air travel remained low, as the disease is not airborne.
Spokesman for the WHO Gregory Hartl said in Geneva that beds in Ebola treatment centers in West Africa are filling up faster than they can be provided.
He said the flood of patients to newly opened treatment centers shows that the outbreak’s size is far larger than official counts show.
Hartl said that an 80-bed treatment center opened in Liberia’s capital in recent days filled up immediately. The next day, dozens more people showed up to be treated.
As a consequence, Kenya Airways has rejected pressure to suspend its flights to the Ebola-hit states of West Africa.
Meanwhile, the international ratings agency Moody’s says the Ebola outbreak – the world’s deadliest so far – may have significant economic ramifications on the affected countries because commercial and transport disruptions are expected to last at least another month.
The WHO said the outbreak was expected to continue “for some time”.
“Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak,” its statement said.
“WHO is co-ordinating a massive scaling up of the international response.”
Part of the challenge was the fact that the outbreak was in “settings characterised by extreme poverty, dysfunctional health systems, a severe shortage of doctors and rampant fear”, the WHO added.
In Nigeria – where four people have now died of Ebola – the residency training programme for doctors who work in government-run hospitals has been halted amid a nationwide doctors’ strike that began in July.
With fears about the spread of Ebola, the authorities want to be able to bring military doctors into hospitals as part of contingency plans, he says.
The Ebola cases in Nigeria are linked to the late Liberian government employee, Patrick Sawyer, who brought the disease to the city of Lagos in July.
The outbreak is affecting the Youth Olympic Games about to start in China, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has ruled that Youth Olympics implement Ebola ban, and Sierra Leone and Nigeria have withdrawn from the Games.
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