UN seeks to calm Ebola fears in W.Africa (Update)

July 2, 2014 by Nana Boakye-Yiadom

The United Nations reassured west Africa on Wednesday that the world's deadliest-ever Ebola epidemic could be stopped in its tracks, telling the region's health ministers: "We can handle this."

The highly-contagious tropical bug has infected hundreds of people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with the latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures showing confirmed or suspected cases had left 467 people dead.

The new toll represented a rise of 129—or 38 percent—since the UN agency's last bulletin given just a week ago.

"These kinds of outbreaks, these diseases, can be stopped," Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security at the WHO, told AFP, as 11 west African health ministers gathered for a two-day conference in Accra on combatting the killer pathogen.

"This is not a unique situation—we have faced it many times—so I'm quite confident that we can handle this.

"This is, however, the most complicated Ebola outbreak ever because it is spreading so fast in both urban and rural areas."

Since the region's first ever epidemic of the deadly and highly contagious fever broke out in Guinea in January, the WHO has sent in more than 150 experts to help tackle the regional crisis.

Despite the efforts of the UN agency and other health workers, there has been a "significant increase" in the rate of new cases and deaths in recent weeks, the organisation added.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, said last week that the spread of the virus, which has had a mortality rate of up to 90 percent in previous outbreaks, was "out of control", with more than 60 outbreak hotspots.

The WHO has warned that Ebola could spread to other countries, warning those hardest hit could struggle to contain the disease.

The agency's top Ebola specialist Pierre Formenti told AFP last month that the recent surge in cases had come in part because efforts to contain the virus had been relaxed too quickly after the outbreak appeared to slow down in April.

Unstoppable bleeding

Ministers from Guinea, where 413 confirmed, suspected and probable cases have surfaced so far including 303 deaths, and Liberia, which has seen 107 cases and 65 deaths, are at the meeting.

Sierra Leone, which has recorded 239 cases and 99 deaths, is also represented.

In addition, officials from Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, along with Ghana and countries as far afield as Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are attending.

They have been joined by a host of UN agencies and other aid organisations, including MSF and the Red Cross, as well as personnel from disease control centres in western Africa, the United States, Britain and the European Union.

Health authorities have warned that people living in the forest areas straddling the three stricken countries often travel across their porous borders for trade, marriages and funerals, making containment of Ebola difficult.

"Most of the people living around these borders are very much connected in terms of ethnicity, trade and other social activities so you don't really differentiate these populations... and this gives it a very high possibility of spreading across borders to other countries," Adinoyi Ben Adeiza, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told AFP.

Liberia's Deputy Health Minister Bernice Dahn told AFP relief efforts were also being hampered by a lack of awareness of the disease among traditional communities and stricken villages hiding victims.

"We need to galvanise the local leaders, the people believe their leaders better than us, the health workers... because there are a lot of traditional beliefs," she said.

People don't even believe Ebola exists and that is helping to spread the disease."

Meanwhile Sierra Leone's President Ernest Koroma said in a televised broadcast on Wednesday that anyone who "harbours an Ebola victim without notifying health authorities" was breaking the law and would be punished.

The WHO has described the current Ebola epidemic as one of the most challenging since the virus was first identified in 1976 in what is now DR Congo.

That outbreak—the deadliest until this year—killed 280 people, according to WHO figures.

Ebola can fell its victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea—in some cases shutting down organs and causing unstoppable bleeding.

No specific medicine or vaccine exists for the virus, which is named after a small river in the DR Congo.

Explore further: W. African nations begin crisis talks as Ebola spreads (Update)

Related Stories

W. African nations begin crisis talks as Ebola spreads (Update)

July 2, 2014
Health ministers from across western Africa met on Wednesday to plan "drastic action" against the world's deadliest-ever Ebola epidemic as dozens of new cases continued to emerge.

Death toll in W.African Ebola outbreak rises to 467: WHO

July 1, 2014
The number of people believed to have died from Ebola in west Africa has risen sharply to 467, the World Health Organisation said Tuesday.

WHO urges 'drastic action' on Ebola, calls 11-nation meeting (Update)

June 26, 2014
The World Health Organization on Thursday called for "drastic action" to fight the deadliest Ebola outbreak on record, as it announced an 11-nation meeting to address the growing crisis.

Sierra Leone doubles Ebola death toll

June 9, 2014
Sierra Leone doubled its death toll from the highly contagious Ebola virus on Monday, as international aid organisations struggled to contain the deadly epidemic gripping west Africa.

Sierra Leone raises Ebola death toll

June 2, 2014
Sierra Leone raised its death toll from the highly contagious Ebola virus on Monday, sparking fears that the deadly epidemic gripping west Africa is spreading.

Guinea Ebola death toll rises above 200, WHO reports (Update)

June 4, 2014
More than 200 people have died from the highly contagious Ebola virus in Guinea, making it one of the worst ever outbreaks of the disease, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

Recommended for you

Creation of synthetic horsepox virus could lead to more effective smallpox vaccine

January 19, 2018
UAlberta researchers created a new synthetic virus that could lead to the development of a more effective vaccine against smallpox. The discovery demonstrates how techniques based on the use of synthetic DNA can be used to ...

Study ends debate over role of steroids in treating septic shock

January 19, 2018
The results from the largest ever study of septic shock could improve treatment for critically ill patients and save health systems worldwide hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

Zika virus damages placenta, which may explain malformed babies

January 18, 2018
Though the Zika virus is widely known for a recent outbreak that caused children to be born with microencephaly, or having a small head, and other malformations, scientists have struggled to explain how the virus affects ...

Certain flu virus mutations may compensate for fitness costs of other mutations

January 18, 2018
Seasonal flu viruses continually undergo mutations that help them evade the human immune system, but some of these mutations can reduce a virus's potency. According to new research published in PLOS Pathogens, certain mutations ...

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

flumoxed
not rated yet Jul 02, 2014
There is a specific ebola drug from Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, currently in human testing in healthy volunteers-maybe should be made available to these patients in dire need.:
http://www.trust....09-4lyuz

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.