Ebola spirals out of control in West Africa

An medical worker feeds an Ebola sufferer at an MSF facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone. (Reuters)

An medical worker feeds an Ebola sufferer at an MSF facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone. (Reuters)

Almost $1-billion is needed to contain the Ebola epidemic raging across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which could infect up to 20 000 people if unchecked by the end of the year, the United Nations warned, as the United States pledged to send troops to help to contain the world’s biggest ever outbreak.

“If not dealt with effectively now, Ebola could become a major humanitarian crisis in countries currently affected,” Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian chief, told reporters in Geneva. The capacity of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to provide even the most basic necessities was, she warned, “on the brink of collapse”.

The stark warning was echoed by other health bodies at an emergency meeting in Geneva this week, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) emergency chief, Bruce Aylward, saying the outbreak was “unparalleled in modern times”.

“We don’t know where the numbers are going,” he said on Tuesday. He said two weeks ago that when the WHO said it needed the capacity to manage 20 000 cases, “that seemed like a lot.
That does not seem like a lot today.”

The US said it would send 3 000 troops to help to tackle the Ebola epidemic.

Co-ordinating efforts
A regional centre run by the US army in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, where the outbreak is spiralling out of control fastest, will co-ordinate efforts to build more than a dozen treatment centres and train thousands of healthcare workers.

More than 2 400 people have died from the virus in this outbreak.

A few cases have been recorded in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. All 26 previously recorded outbreaks have been contained largely by isolating patients, but the WHO said this time cases would continue to rise for at least six months.

The WHO said about $987.8-million was needed for everything from paying health workers and buying supplies to tracing people who had been exposed to the virus, which is spread by contact with bodily fluids such as blood, urine or diarrhoea.

Foreign medical teams with up to 600 experts, as well as at least 10 000 local health workers, are needed to stem the outbreak, the global health body has said.

About $23.8-million is needed to pay burial teams and buy body bags, because the bodies of Ebola victims remain highly infectious and workers must wear protection suits.

The cost of the US’s latest effort will come from $500-million allocated for overseas contingency operations, such as the war in Afghanistan.

The Obama administration has also requested an additional $88-million from Congress to fight Ebola, including $58-million to speed production of the ZMapp experimental antiviral drug and two potential Ebola vaccines. The US classifies Ebola as a “bioterrorist weapon”. Liberia has borne the brunt of the epidemic, recording 1 224 deaths as of September 6.

Médécins Sans Frontières, the charity leading the fight against Ebola, has repeatedly said the international community’s response has been “lethally inadequate”. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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