Thursday, September 4, 2014
World Losing Battle to Contain Ebola
International medical agency Medecins sans Frontieres said Tuesday the world was “losing the battle” to contain Ebola as the United Nations warned of severe food shortages in the hardest-hit countries.
MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders told a UN briefing in New York that world leaders were failing to address the epidemic and called for an urgent global biological disaster response to get aid and personnel to west Africa.
Jan Eliasson, the deputy secretary general of the United Nations, said the outbreak was “a test to international solidarity.”
“Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it. Leaders are failing to come to grips with this transnational threat,” said MSF international president Joanne Liu.
Her comments came as a third American health worker tested positive for the deadly virus while working with patients in Liberia, the worst-hit country.
“My heart was deeply saddened, but my faith was not shaken, when I learned another of our missionary doctors contracted Ebola,” said Bruce Johnson, president of the SIM Christian missionary group for whom the unnamed American worked.
Two fellow US health workers – Dr. Kent Brantly and nurse Nancy Writebol who contracted the virus responded positively to the ZMapp serum and were flown home to rest after the successful treatment.
The latest US victim had not been working directly with Ebola patients, and it is not yet clear how he caught the disease, which is usually fatal.
Slamming what she called a “global coalition of inaction,” Liu called on the international community to fund more beds for a regional network of field hospitals, dispatch trained civilian and military biohazard experts and deploy mobile laboratories across Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Senior UN officials, on the other hand urged diplomats to cable their capitals to send money, doctors and protective gear to the affected region.
MSF said the crisis was particularly acute in Monrovia, where it estimated that “800 additional beds are needed”.
“Every day we have to turn sick people away because we are too full”, said Stefan Liljegren, MSF’s coordinator at the ELWA Three Ebola unit in Monrovia.
Aside from overcrowded centers, people were dying in their communities, too.
“In Sierra Leone, highly infectious bodies are rotting in the streets,” MSF added.
The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden who has been briefing U.S. President Barack Obama on the outbreak, said there was still a window of opportunity, 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,” he said.
“The virus is moving faster than anyone anticipated. We need to move fast.”
More than 3,500 cases have been confirmed so far, with more than 1,500 deaths, making the outbreak the largest and most complex since the disease was first identified in 1976. Three countries in West Africa – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – account for most of the cases, but there have also been confirmed cases in Nigeria and Senegal.
A separate strain of the virus has been detected in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 53 cases confirmed there.
Public health officials said the rate at which new cases were being identified was rising. “We understand the outbreak is moving out of our grasp,” said Dr. David Nabarro, the United Nations special envoy for the Ebola crisis.
Dr. Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization, said “the outbreak will get worse before it gets better, and it requires a well-coordinated big surge of outbreak response urgently.” Her agency has described the outbreak as “a global threat,” one whose magnitude Dr. Chan said “we all underestimated.”
At current infection rates, the WHO fears it could take six to nine months and at least $490 million (373 million euros) to bring the outbreak under control, by which time more than 20,000 people could be affected.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization issued an alert that restrictions on movement in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had led to panic buying, food shortages and severe price hikes.
“With the main harvest now at risk and trade and movements of goods severely restricted, food insecurity is poised to intensify in the weeks and months to come, warned Bukar Tijani, FAO regional representative for Africa.
In Liberia, which has been hardest-hit with 694 deaths, the price of the national staple cassava on market stalls in Monrovia went up 150 percent within the first weeks of August, the FAO said.
“This situation may have social repercussions that could lead to subsequent impact on the disease containment,” said Vincent Martin, head of the FAO’s Resilience Hub in Dakar, Senegal.
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) launched an emergency operation on Tuesday to get 65,000 tons of food to 1.3 million people in the worst-hit areas.
At Monrovia’s John F. Kennedy Medical Center (JFK) scores of staff went on strike to protest against working conditions and unpaid bonuses. Amid shortages of equipment and trained staff, more than 120 healthcare workers have died in West Africa in the Ebola outbreak.
“Health workers have died (fighting Ebola), including medical doctors at … JFK and to have them come to work without food on their table, we think that is pathetic,” George Williams, secretary general of the Health Workers Association of Liberia, told Reuters.
Williams said healthcare workers at JFK, the country’s largest referral hospital, had gone unpaid for two months.
The Liberian government began offering a $1,000 bonus to any healthcare workers who agreed to work in Ebola treatment facilities.
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