Ebola outbreak can be halted, says WHO chief

West Africa outbreak ‘moving faster than our efforts to control it’, says Margaret Chan

Dr Kent Brantly (right) working at an Ebola treatment clinic in Foya, Liberia, in June. Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who are now suffering from Ebola in Liberia, are scheduled to be evacuated to the United States for treatment. Photograph: EPA/Samaritan’s Purse

Dr Kent Brantly (right) working at an Ebola treatment clinic in Foya, Liberia, in June. Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who are now suffering from Ebola in Liberia, are scheduled to be evacuated to the United States for treatment. Photograph: EPA/Samaritan’s Purse

Sat, Aug 2, 2014, 01:00

An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in west Africa is out of control but can be stopped with more resources and tougher measures, World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Margaret Chan said yesterday.

The outbreak is the worst since the disease was discovered in the mid-1970s, with 729 deaths in four different countries.

“This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it,” Ms Chan told the presidents of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone at an emergency meeting in Guinea’s capital, Conakry.

“If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socio- economic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries,” she said.

But the outbreak could be stopped and the public was not at high risk of infection, she added.

Governments might need to restrict population movements and public gatherings, and use the police and civil defence forces to guarantee the security of response teams, she said.

Medical workers

With healthcare systems struggling to cope, more than 60 medical workers have lost their lives, hampering efforts to tackle the disease.

Two Americans working for aid group Samaritan’s Purse who contracted the disease in Liberia were in a serious condition and would be medically evacuated by early next week, the organisation said.

Liberia has put in place measures including closing all schools and some government departments as well as possibly quarantining affected communities. Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency and called in troops to isolate Ebola victims.

However, the leader of Guinea’s Ebola taskforce said his country would not be following these moves.

“Some measures taken by our neighbours could make the fight against Ebola even harder,” said Aboubacar Sidiki Diakit, citing in particular the closure of schools.

“When children are not supervised, they can go anywhere and make the problem worse.”

The outbreak has prompted some international organisations to withdraw. The US Peace Corps has said it was withdrawing 340 volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Samaritans Purse said yesterday it would complete the evacuation of its 60 international staff from Liberia over the weekend.

WaterAid said yesterday it was suspending its operations there as well.

The WHO is launching a $100 million response plan and the US is providing material and technical support to the three countries. Further assistance will be discussed at a meeting in Washington next week.

– (Reuters)