Ebola ‘moving faster than efforts to control it’: WHO warn virus could spread to other countries causing ‘catastrophic’ loss of life
- WHO chief Margaret Chan said traditional burials were significant cause of its spread
- Made the comments at a summit in Guinea to discuss the infection
- So far, virus has led to 729 deaths in four different countries
The spread of the deadly Ebola virus is out of control and the effects could be ‘catastrophic’, the World Health Organisation said last night.
The outbreak of the disease, the worst since it was discovered in the mid-1970s, has so far caused 729 deaths in four different countries.
At the moment its spread is contained to West Africa, but there are growing fears that it could hit the UK.
Last night WHO director-general Margaret Chan said: ‘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, severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries.’
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Medical workers in Sierra Leone wear protective clothing while treating patients infected with the Ebola virus in Kenema District
A government worker in Liberia mixes disinfectant to spray the streets of Monrovia to try and bring the Ebola virus under control
Dr Margaret Chan arrives at Conakry airport in Guinea for talks with the leaders of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia about the Ebola virus
Speaking at a meeting in Guinea’s capital Conakry, she told the presidents of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast that the virus could be stopped.
But she said that cultural practices such as traditional burials were a significant cause of its spread.
British authorities are currently on high alert, and have put measures in place to ensure that all passengers displaying symptoms are prevented from boarding flights to the UK.
Anyone who appears ill on arrival into Britain will be held at immigration before being quarantined in highly secure isolation units. However, because it takes up to three weeks for symptoms to appear, there are fears some victims will slip through the net.
The warning came from the head of the WHO Margaret Chan who said that the epidemic was moving faster than their efforts to control it
Yesterday Dr Chan revealed that the outbreak has now caused 1,323 recorded cases of the disease overall.
She warned that governments may need to restrict population movements and public gatherings, and use the police and civil defence forces to guarantee the security of response teams.
But the WHO chief went on to point out that more than 60 medical workers have died, a loss which has hampered efforts to tackle the disease.
Two Americans working for aid group Samaritan’s Purse who contracted the disease in Liberia are in a serious condition and are being medically evacuated, the organisation said.
And the outbreak has prompted some international organisations to withdraw.
The US Peace Corps has said it was withdrawing 340 volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Samaritan’s Purse said on Friday it would complete the evacuation of its 60 international staff from Liberia over the weekend and WaterAid said on Friday it was suspending its operations there as well.
Sierra Leone yesterday declared a public health emergency with the government ordering house-to-house searches by troops to seek out infected patients.
So far Liberia has closed all schools and some government departments as well as looking at the possibility of quarantining affected communities.
Soldiers have been deployed to the streets of Liberia to prevent panic as fears spread about the deadly virus
But the leader of Guinea’s Ebola taskforce said his country would not be following these moves.
‘Some measures taken by our neighbours could make the fight against Ebola even harder,’ Aboubacar Sidiki Diakite said, citing in particular the closure of schools. He added: ‘When children are not supervised, they can go anywhere and make the problem worse.’
The WHO will convene an emergency committee on August 6 to decide if the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern and to recommend measures to tackle it.
Dr Chan has promised to take personal responsibility for coordinating international response efforts and mobilising the support needed to fight the virus.
Health officials in the U.S. have warned Americans not to travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea
Medical vehicles in Liberia drive through the streets with posters on them saying ‘Ebola must go’ as the virus spreads