LONDON/LAGOS, (Reuters) – The world’s worst outbreak of Ebola that has killed nearly 1,000 people in West Africa represents an international health emergency and could continue spreading for months, the World Health Organization said yesterday.
Nigeria became the third African nation, after Sierra Leone and Liberia, to declare a national emergency yesterday as the region’s healthcare systems struggle to cope with the advance of one of the deadliest diseases known to man.
“The outbreak is moving faster than we can control it,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told reporters on a telephone briefing from her Geneva headquarters.
The U.N. agency said all states where Ebola had passed from one person to another should declare a national emergency. It called the outbreak “particularly serious” but said there should be no general ban on international travel or trade.
“The declaration … will galvanise the attention of leaders of all countries at the top level. It cannot be done by the ministries of health alone,” Chan said.
In Nigeria, which has confirmed seven cases of Ebola since a man fell sick on arrival from Liberia, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a national state of emergency and approved 1.9 billion naira ($11.7 million) of emergency funds to combat the virus.
The WHO has been accused of failing to respond fast enough to the outbreak, which it said on May 18 could be declared over by May 22. It has since become more conservative in its predictions, said head of health security, Keiji Fukuda.
“At that point we thought that it was likely that it would come under control based on our experience. This outbreak has developed in ways we have not seen before,” Fukuda told reporters.
“The likelihood is that things will get worse before they get better,” he said, adding that the WHO is prepared for an outbreak that persists at a high level for months.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the declaration showed WHO’s seriousness in tackling the outbreak but added that statements should be translated into action.
“For weeks, MSF has been repeating that a massive medical, epidemiological and public health response is desperately needed to saves lives,” said MSF Director of Operations Bart Janssens.
RESTRICTIONS CAUSE HARDSHIP
Ebola has no proven cure and there is no vaccine to prevent infection, so the best treatment is focussed on alleviating symptoms that include fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Its spread could be stopped with the right measures to deal with infected people, Fukuda said, but it was important that anyone known to have Ebola should be immediately isolated and treated in isolation for 30 days.
The U.S. Agency for International Development said on Friday its officials had announced more than $12 million in additional funding this week to help curb the outbreak.
The European Union said on Friday it was increasing by 8 million euros ($10.7 million) its funding to contain Ebola and governments in the affected region have taken increasingly tough measures.
The army in Sierra Leone on Thursday blockaded rural areas hit by Ebola while neighbouring Liberia declared a state of emergency. But some local people said the restrictions, while necessary, risked increasing their economic hardship.
In one example, about 30 military officers armed with AK-47s guarded a checkpoint blocking a line of trucks laden with goods from travelling from Montserrado County to the rest of Liberia.
One of the drivers, Sackie Sumo, said the closed road prevented him transporting his truckload of logs, which in turn meant he would not be paid.