Immediate action is needed to contain the deadly Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, World Health Organization (WHO) officials warned Wednesday. At least 600 cases and 390 deaths in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea have been reported since the epidemic began in March.
"There is an urgent need to intensify response efforts," Dr. Luis Sambo, WHO regional director for Africa, said this week. WHO and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have sent teams of relief workers to affected countries.
But large numbers of new cases are straining emergency services on the ground.
"We have reached our limits," said Dr. Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations. "Despite the human resources equipment deployed... we are no longer able to send teams to the new outbreak sites."
This is the first time Ebola has broken out in the region. Fear and misunderstanding of the disease in local communities have contributed to the speed and scale with which it has spread, while political and religious authorities are failing to promote vital information to fight it, MSF stated. Funerals without safety measures have been a large contributing factor.
Additional support is essential to contain the outbreak, Janssens said.
"The WHO, the affected countries, and neighboring countries must deploy the resources necessary for an epidemic of this scale.... Ebola is no longer a public health issue limited to Guinea. It is affecting the whole of West Africa."
Ebola causes fever, vomiting, and diarrhea and can lead to organ failure and internal and external bleeding. It can kill up to 90 percent of those affected. While there is no cure or vaccine for the disease, it can be maintained if it is treated early.