Nfld. & Labrador

WHO doctor Bruce Aylward on response to Ebola outbreak

A doctor, who is originally from Newfoundland and Labrador but is now in charge of the World Health Organization's response on tackling the deadly disease, discusses the organization's response to the outbreak.
World Health Organization Assistant-Director General Bruce Aylward was reassigned three weeks ago, to be the lead on tackling Ebola. He is also coordinating the UN's technical response to the outbreak. (Pierre Albouy/Reuters)

A doctor originally from St. John's is now in charge of the World Health Organization's (WHO) response to the Ebola outbreak.

Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general for the organization, is known for his work to eradicate polio.

But three weeks ago, he was reassigned to be the lead on tackling the deadly disease. He is also coordinating the UN's technical response to the outbreak.

Aylward is currently in Geneva, but recently visited many of the hardest-hit areas of West Africa.

"The overall picture is still one of great concern and devastation, I have to say. Not just in terms of the disease itself, but the consequences of the disease," Aylward told CBC News.

"You know, the fields are laying fallow in key areas, the markets are empty in key areas, hotels are empty, and children are orphaned. It really, really is a very, very tough situation for these countries, and a dangerous situation."

Ebola slowing in some areas

Aylward said there are glimmers of hope in evidence that the spread of Ebola is beginning to slow down, but it is still spreading.

"It's a dangerous, devastating disease, but simple measures will protect you from it. In Liberia, we've seen the disease slowing down. Now we have to be very careful when we say that though — it means it's going from an exponential rate of growth of what we call a linear, a sort of slower rate of growth," he said. 

"In key areas in Guinea and Sierra Leone, we're also seeing the disease dropping very quickly, and this is mainly because populations are starting to understand the risks associated with Ebola and how to protect themselves and their families from the disease. So that's very encouraging, it's going to slow the disease down. but it's not going to stop it."

Evolving in real time

Aylward said it's difficult to get an idea of what's happening thousands of kilometres away in West Africa from an office in Geneva.

"So what's much more important is that I get on the ground, understand what our teams are doing there, understand the perspective of governments and our partners and heads of state —and then how best to tailor our response," he said.

"It's hard to stay close enough to it and on top of it to understand how it's evolving in real time — and then how you can take advantage of the evolution of the epidemic to adjust your strategies and get a jump on the disease."

Aylward said more funding is needed from western nations, and more health expertise is also needed in affected countries.