World Health Organization declared on Friday that the Ebola outbreak spreading across West Africa has become a public health emergency of international concern. WHO also revealed that Ebola took an additional 29 lives between Tuesday and Wednesday alone.
WHO chief Margaret Chan said the announcement is a clear call for international solidarity but also said many countries would probably not see any Ebola cases.
Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own, Chan said. I urge the international community to provide support on the most urgent basis possible.
Chan spoke to journalists at a news conference in Geneva after experts had spent two days discussing the epidemic.
Statements won't save lives, said Dr. Bart Janssens, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders. ”For weeks, (we) have been repeating that a massive medical, epidemiological and public health response is desperately needed. ... Lives are being lost because the response is too slow.
I don't know what the advantage is of declaring an international emergency, added Dr. David Heymann, who directed WHO's response to the SARS outbreak and is now a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
This could bring in more foreign aid but we don't know that yet, he said. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already recommends against traveling to West Africa. The agency has also put U.S. hospitals on alert for symptoms to spot potential cases as quickly as possible. Two US nationals infected with Ebola recently received a drug never before tested in people and seem to be improving slightly, according to the charity they work for.
Based on new numbers from WHO released Friday, the Ebola outbreak — the largest and longest in history — has now killed 961 people and sickened 1,779 others. It's on track to sicken more than all of the previous outbreaks combined.
There is currently no licensed vaccine or treatment for Ebola, although experimental drugs are being explored after two American medical missionaries infected with the virus appeared to show signs of improvement after taking new medications.
About 54% of people who have been infected in this latest outbreak have died.
The epidemic has affected Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The outbreak was first reported in March. On Friday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared a national state of emergency over the Ebola virus.
Jonathan said in a statement the relevant agencies must ensure that all possible steps are taken to effectively contain the threat of the Ebola virus in line with international protocols and best practices.”
Nigeria's health ministry says two patients in Africa's most populous nation have died of the disease, and there are seven other confirmed cases.