Health workers teaching people about how to prevent Ebola infection in Conakry, Guinea (Photo: AP Photo/ Youssouf Bah)
The UN's World Health Organization is warning that drastic action is needed to combat a recent outbreak of Ebola in three West African nations.
“This is no longer a country specific outbreak but a sub-regional crisis that requires firm action by Governments and partners," Luis Sambo, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said in a statement.
Here's how bad the outbreak has gotten since March of this year: In Guinea, there have been 390 cases of the deadly viral infections, leading to 270 deaths; Sierra Leone has seen 158 cases and 34 deaths; and in Liberia, there have been 51 cases and 34 deaths.
The rate and extent of this outbreak make it the deadliest since Ebola first emerged in 1976 in Congo (then Zaire) and Sudan.
"WHO is gravely concerned of the on-going cross-border transmission into neighbouring countries as well as the potential for further international spread," Sambo said.
Ebola is caused by a viral infection, and leads to severe hemorrhaging. It can kill up to 90 per cent of those infected, and is spread by contact with the blood and other bodily fluids of humans and animals who are already infected. There is no vaccine to prevent its spread nor a cure to treat those who have contracted the disease.
"There is an urgent need to intensify response efforts; to promote cross-border collaboration and information sharing of suspected cases and contacts... and to mobilise all sectors of the community to ensure unhindered access to affected areas," said Sambo. This is the only way that the outbreak will be effectively addressed.”
Marc Poncine, emergency co-ordinator for Doctors without Borders in Conakry, Guinea, spoke with CBC News about the factors which are making it difficult to control the spread of the disease. Among those, he said, was the fact that many people have more confidence in traditional health practitioners than they do in the health system, so patients often don't attend treatment centres.
The World Health Organization is convening health authorities from nearby countries for a two-day conference in Accra, Ghana to come up with a strategy to contain the outbreak.