WHO sounds alarm over Ebola infections as deaths top 1,500 (Update)

August 28, 2014 by Chris Stein With Ola Awoniyi In Abuja And Jonathan Fowler In Geneva

The World Health Organization said on Thursday that the number of Ebola cases was increasing rapidly and could exceed 20,000 before the virus is brought under control, as the death toll topped 1,500.

New figures showed the massive scale of the crisis, which the WHO said indicated a "rapid increase still in the intensity of transmission" that could cost at least $490 million (370 million euros) to tackle.

Bruce Aylward, the WHO's head of emergency programmes, said it could take six to nine months to bring Ebola under control, by which time the number of infections could have passed 20,000.

"That's not saying we expect 20,000, that's not saying we would accept, more importantly, 20,000 cases," he told reporters in Geneva, calling the situation a "global health security issue".

"But we have got to have a system that is robust enough to deal with... a very bad case scenario."

As of August 26, 1,552 people had been confirmed dead from Ebola in four countries—Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria—while 3,062 had been infected.

Liberia was the worst affected with 694 deaths; 422 people have died in Sierra Leone; and 430 in Guinea, where the virus emerged at the start of the year. Nigeria has now recorded six deaths.

But Aylward warned that the actual caseload could be "two to four times higher than the number of cases you see reported".

Nigeria's latest death—in the southeastern oil city of Port Harcourt—was the first outside its biggest city, Lagos, and dashed hopes that the country had successfully contained the virus.

Scientists meanwhile said the first human trials of a potential vaccine will start next week using a product known as the NIAID/GSK Ebola vaccine candidate made by pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline and the US government.

Countries 'stigmatised'

Health ministers from member states of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS met on Thursday in the Ghanaian capital Accra and vowed to strengthen their response to the devastating outbreak.

Ghana's President John Mahama, the current ECOWAS chairman, complained security measures taken by other countries to prevent the virus spreading, including travel bans, had unfairly hit member states.

"Currently in the sub-region, Ebola is officially reported in four countries and yet the entire West African sub-region of 15 nations and even Africa as a whole of 54 nations has been stigmatised," he said.

The bloc called for travel bans to be overturned and borders reopened.

The International Monetary Fund said it was studying additional financial support for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia because of the "acute macroeconomic and social impact" on their already weak economies.

"Significant financing needs are likely to arise," it added.

In Nigeria, Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said a doctor who treated a contact of the Liberian-American man who brought Ebola into the country died on August 22.

The patient, an ECOWAS official, slipped through the net and travelled to Port Harcourt where he saw the doctor in a hotel room after feeling unwell, Chukwu said in Abuja.

Port Harcourt, 435 kilometres (270 miles) east of Lagos and the capital of Rivers state, is the centre of Nigeria's oil industry and a base for several international companies, including Anglo-Dutch giant Shell, US firm Chevron and France's Total.

Shell and Total said they were both monitoring the situation closely and keeping staff informed of health advice. Operations have not yet been affected.

Emergency response hit

The director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tom Frieden, said on Wednesday "urgent action" was needed to tackle Ebola and warned the situation would get worse before it got better.

There has been mounting concern about the effect of the most lethal outbreak of the tropical virus in history.

A number of airlines, including Air France and British Airways, have suspended their services to Freetown and Monrovia, leading to complaints that Ebola-hit countries were being increasingly isolated.

The WHO's Aylward said it was "absolutely vital" that airlines resume flights because it was hindering the emergency response. A travel ban was "a self-defeating strategy", he added.

On an Ebola vaccine, researchers also said they hoped safety trials on 140 healthy volunteers in Britain, Gambia and Mali could start next month and finish by the end of the year, with scope for GSK to make some 10,000 extra doses.

A number of foreign healthcare workers who contracted Ebola have been given an experimental therapy called ZMapp but stocks are exhausted.

Explore further: Fresh warning over Ebola as regional crisis talks start

Related Stories

Fresh warning over Ebola as regional crisis talks start

August 28, 2014
The Ebola epidemic gripping West Africa will get worse before it gets better, the head of the United States' top health body has warned, as health ministers from affected nations held crisis talks.

UN: Ebola disease caseload could reach 20,000 (Update)

August 28, 2014
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is accelerating and could grow six times larger to infect as many as 20,000 people, the World Health Organization said Thursday. The U.N. health agency unveiled a new road map for containing ...

Nigeria says doctor who treated Ebola patient has contracted virus

August 4, 2014
Nigerian authorities said Monday that a doctor in Lagos who treated a Liberian victim of Ebola has contracted the virus, the second confirmed case in sub-Saharan Africa's largest city.

Nigeria has only one Ebola patient: health minister

August 26, 2014
Nigeria said Tuesday that two more people had been released from isolation after recovering from Ebola, leaving only one living patient with the disease in the country.

Nigeria confirms five more Ebola cases, seven in total, 2 deaths

August 6, 2014
Nigeria on Wednesday confirmed five new cases of Ebola in Lagos and a second death from the virus, bringing the total number of infections in sub-Saharan Africa's largest city to seven.

Confirmed Nigeria Ebola cases rises to 11

August 14, 2014
The number of confirmed Ebola cases in Nigeria has risen by one to 11, Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said on Thursday.

Recommended for you

Data-driven malaria early warning system could predict outbreaks months in advance

October 24, 2017
A Johns Hopkins University scientist is part of a team working on a method to predict malaria outbreaks months in advance, potentially giving public health officials a chance to protect people from a disease that poses a ...

Novel therapies for multidrug-resistant bacteria

October 23, 2017
During this innovative study published in PLOS One, researchers found that novel classes of compounds, such as metal-complexes, can be used as alternatives to or to supplement traditional antibiotics, which have become ineffective ...

Key discoveries offer significant hope of reversing antibiotic resistance

October 23, 2017
Resistance to antibiotics is becoming increasingly prevalent and threatens to undermine healthcare systems across the globe. Antibiotics including penicillins, cephalosporins and carbapenems are known as β-lactams and are ...

Pneumonia vaccine under development provides 'most comprehensive coverage' to date, alleviates antimicrobial concerns

October 20, 2017
In 2004, pneumonia killed more than 2 million children worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. By 2015, the number was less than 1 million.

Newly discovered viral marker could help predict flu severity in infected patients

October 20, 2017
Flu viruses contain defective genetic material that may activate the immune system in infected patients, and new research published in PLOS Pathogens suggests that lower levels of these molecules could increase flu severity.

Migraines may be the brain's way of dealing with oxidative stress

October 19, 2017
A new perspective article highlights a compelling theory about migraine attacks: that they are an integrated mechanism by which the brain protects and repairs itself. Recent insightful findings and potential ways to use them ...


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.