The World Health Organisation has warned that the Ebola outbreak, which killed more than 700 people since February, is spreading quicker than efforts to contain the disease.
The WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan urged the presidents of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast at a meeting in Guinea’s capital Conakry on Friday to step up efforts to avoid “catastrophic consequences”, after the global health organisation announced a $100m plan to combat the epidemic.
“This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it. If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries.”
“This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response,” Chan said.
The outbreak is by far the largest in the four-year history of the disease, with 729 deaths so far, including more than 60 healthcare workers, and 1,323 cases overall, she said.
Experience showed that the outbreak could be stopped and the general public was not at high risk of infection, but it would be “extremely unwise” to let the virus circulate widely over a long period of time, she said.
“Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of viruses and other microbes. We must not give this virus opportunities to deliver more surprises.”
Chan added that cultural practices such as traditional burials and deep-seated beliefs were a significant cause of the spread and a barrier to containment and needed to change.
According to her, people’s assumption that isolation wards are “a sure death sentence” led them to care for loved ones at home or consult traditional healers, defeating attempts to contain the disease.
“Moreover, public attitudes can create a security threat to response teams when fear and misunderstanding turn to anger, hostility, or violence.”