Despite tremendous efforts to fight the Ebola outbreak on the part of governments in West Africa, cases continue to increase rapidly, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns.
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Dr. Tom Frieden gave an update on the outbreak to reporters on Tuesday, one day after his return from the West African countries most affected by the outbreak: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
"The number of cases continues to increase and is now increasing rapidly. I'm afraid that over the next few weeks those numbers are likely to increase further and significantly. There is a window of opportunity to tamp this down, but that window is closing. We need action now to scale up the response. We know how to stop Ebola. The challenge is to scale it up to the massive levels needed to stop this outbreak," Frieden said.
The CDC director said it was upsetting during his visit to see the shortage of hospital beds and the lack of a rapid response needed to prevent a single cluster of Ebola from becoming a large outbreak.
There is widespread transmission in Liberia and strong signs it will happen in Sierra Leone in the near future, he said.
'World is losing the battle'
Frieden said more resources, expertise and a unified response are needed.
"The number of cases is increasing so quickly that for every day's delay it becomes that much harder to stop it."
The virus has killed around 1,550 people since the latest outbreak was detected in March.
In a speech to the United Nations on Tuesday, Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders, denounced the lack of deployment of resources to address the outbreak, which the group says has overstretched ministries of health and private non-governmental organizations.
"Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it," Liu said at a United Nations forum on the outbreak. "Ebola treatment centres are reduced to places where people go to die alone, where little more than palliative care is offered."
In Monrovia, Liberia, Doctors Without Borders estimates 800 more beds are needed. One of its treatment centres now contains 160 beds.
In the short term, Doctors Without Borders called for:
- Field hospitals with isolation wards to be scaled up.
- Trained personnel dispatched.
- Mobile laboratories deployed to improve diagnostics.
- Air bridges established to move personnel and material to and within West Africa.
- Establishing a regional network of field hospitals to treat medical personnel with suspected or actual infections.
The charity SIM USA announced Tuesday that one of its missionary doctors in Liberia has tested positive for the Ebola virus and immediately isolated himself.
"The American doctor was treating obstetrics patients at SIM’s ELWA hospital in Monrovia. He was not treating Ebola patients in ELWA’s Ebola isolation unit, a facility separate from the main hospital on the mission organization’s 136-acre campus. It is not yet known how the doctor contracted the virus specifically," SIM USA said.
David Nabarro, who is co-ordinating the UN response, says the world body is "bringing in outside health workers as much as we can."
The challenge, particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone, is getting the health-care system up and running again to deal not only with the Ebola virus, but other illnesses that are adding to the burden, Frieden said.
The CDC director said the bulk of the response will come from the affected countries themselves, assisted by medical experts from elsewhere who can provide training.
World Health Organization director Margaret Chan, other UN officials and Frieden all criticized border closures, saying they prevent supplies and experts from reaching people in desperate need.