Ebola in Liberia slowing - World Health Organisation

Number of deaths from virus falls but WHO says disease is not under control

Last week Mali became the sixth West African country to report a case of Ebola. Photograph: Daniel Irungu/EPA

Last week Mali became the sixth West African country to report a case of Ebola. Photograph: Daniel Irungu/EPA


Liberia, the country worst hit by the Ebola epidemic, may be seeing a decline in the spread of the virus, although the battle to contain the outbreak is far from won, the World Health Organization said yesterday.

WHO assistant director general Bruce Aylward said the number of burials and new admissions had fallen and there was a plateau in laboratory-confirmed cases.

“All the data point in the same direction,” he said. “Do we feel confident that the response is now getting an upper hand on the virus? Yes, we are seeing slowing rate of new cases, very definitely.”

Mr Aylward cautioned against overly optimistic conclusions but said: “We’re seeing a reversal of that rapid rate of increase to the point that there seems to be a decline right now.”

Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said this month there were early signs the outbreak might be “in decline”.

Mr Aylward said the fresh information could be attributed to the wrong factors and misunderstood. “Getting a slight decrease in the number of cases on a day-to-day basis, versus getting this thing closed out, is a completely different ball game.”

US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said governments who made commitments to help fight Ebola should deliver on their pledges and those yet to commit should do so.

Ms Power said she was encouraged by progress in the last couple of weeks, and that the two most critical remaining challenges are to fill gaps in the delivery of people and resources and to fight fear, misinformation and stigma.

Mr Aylward said there had been 13,703 Ebola cases in eight countries and the reported death toll yesterday was 4,922, unchanged from last Friday.

A jump of more than 3,000 in the number of cases reported since Saturday was largely due to the data being updated with old cases rather than new cases, he added.

Almost 300 fewer people are known to have died from Ebola in Liberia than previously thought, while more than 200 have been added to Sierra Leone’s death toll.

Senegal and Nigeria have been declared Ebola-free, after passing two incubation periods of a total of 42 days.

Mr Aylward said he would be “terrified” if his statement was understood to mean Ebola was under control.

“This is a very, very dangerous disease . . . A couple of burials go wrong, it can start a whole new set of transmission chains and the disease starts trending upward again.”

But he said that if current trends continued, the worst hit countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone should be able to “comfortably” meet a target to scale up Ebola-containment measures by December 1st.

Last week Mali became the sixth West African country to report a case of the disease, which has an incubation period of two to 21 days. The patient, a two-year-old girl, died after travelling by bus from Guinea with her grandmother, with at least one stopover, in the capital Bamako.

Mr Aylward said the government of Mali was putting in a “Herculean” effort to track people who had contact with the girl, with 84 people being monitored so far. No new suspected Ebola cases had yet been reported, he added.

The WHO has been rushing to help organise bed spaces to take care of Ebola patients in treatment centres, but there were now around 100 beds empty in Liberia, he said.

“The single biggest mistake anybody could make right now is to think do we really need all those beds?”

In neighbouring Sierra Leone, the second worst hit country, the number of cases was continuing to increase in some areas, including the capital Freetown, he said.

“We’re still seeing this thing burning quite hot in parts of Sierra Leone right now,” Mr Aylward said.

Nato call

Separately, a group of 40 senior European political, diplomatic and military figures called today for the Nato military alliance to deploy staff, ships and aircraft to help fight Ebola in West Africa.

SigNatories including two former Nato secretary-generals and three ex-prime ministers said in two open letters that the WHO and United Nations should ask for help from Nato, whose “unique capabilities ... could make a difference in this situation.”

The letters to Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and WHO director-general Margaret Chan were drafted by the European Leadership Network think tank in London.