UNITED NATIONS: The world is falling behind in a desperate race stop the deadly Ebola outbreak, a top UN official warned on Tuesday amid dire predictions that thousands of new infections are possible before year’s end.
“Ebola got a head start on us,” said Anthony Banbury, head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response. “It is far ahead of us, it is running faster than us, and it is winning the race,” the Briton told the UN Security Council in New York, by remote link from UNMEER headquarters in Accra, Ghana. “If Ebola wins, we the peoples of the United Nations lose so very much.”
The UN official made his remarks as the World Health Organization said the Ebola infection rate could soon reach 10,000 a week as world leaders prepared to hold talks on the crisis at the United Nations.
“We either stop Ebola now or we face an entirely unprecedented situation for which we do not have a plan,” Banbury stressed. He said that with infection rates rising exponentially every day, UNMEER will need 7,000 beds for treatment. “There’s much bad news about Ebola but the good news is we know how to stop it,” said Banbury. But to push back the spread “we must defeat Ebola and we must do it fast,” he said.
WHO assistant director general Bruce Aylward, describing his figures as a working forecast, said the epidemic “could reach 5,000 to 10,000 cases per week by the first week of December.” The latest death toll is 4,447, from 8,914 recorded infection cases, Aylward said as the worst-ever Ebola outbreak spirals in the three hardest-hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The WHO has called current Ebola outbreak the most severe in modern times. On Monday, US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for the international campaign against the haemorrhagic virus, which is killing seven out of every ten people infected, to be intensified.
Governments in west Africa have been scrambling to contain the epidemic, with patients in the Liberian capital describing devastating scenes as patients struggled to survive during a strike by health workers. A 56-year-old Sudanese doctor who had worked as a UN volunteer in Liberia died of Ebola late Monday after arriving in Germany last week for treatment.
Outside west Africa, medical staff have also been particularly at risk during the crisis, with at least two cases of contamination reported despite stringent safety protocols. Meanwhile, a nurse in the city of Dallas, Texas, Nina Pham, said she was “doing well” after catching the virus while caring for a Liberian Ebola patient, but authorities warned 76 workers may have been exposed during his 10-day stay in the hospital.
Spanish nurse Teresa Romero, 44, is thought to have caught Ebola while treating an elderly missionary who was infected in Sierra Leone and died on September 25.
‘A HELLISH SITUATION’
Liberian health workers late Tuesday ended a two-day strike to secure risk pay for Ebola, saying they put the needs of their endangered country first following global appeals to end the protest. George Williams, secretary general of the National workers union of Liberia, told AFP that workers had ended the stoppage “first for the love we have for our people, and also because we received calls from everywhere in the world”.
Ninety-five Liberian health workers have died so far in the epidemic. Their colleagues want compensation for the risk of dealing with Ebola, which spreads through contact with bodily fluids and for which there is no vaccine or widely available treatment.
In the capital Monrovia, a hospital patient quoted on local radio described scenes of desolation, with sick people climbing over the fence to escape from the treatment unit after being deserted by striking staffers.
“We risk our life every day and the government remains insensible to our plight,” said Alphonso Wesseh, a health worker who joined the strike. “It’s not human. One of our colleagues died because he was bitten by a patient,” he said. “We are in a hellish situation, so we want to be compensated as a result.”
In the US, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg announced a US$25 million donation to the US Centers for Disease Control Foundation to help efforts to contain the epidemic. “Grants like this directly help the frontline responders in their heroic work,” Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page.
British troops began loading a ship that will set sail for Sierra Leone this week to help in efforts to contain the outbreak. The civilian-staffed military ship will travel with three helicopters, air crews and engineers to provide transport and support to medical teams and aid workers.
Amid the scramble to stop the disease spreading, Africa Cup of Nations’ hosts Morocco saying Tuesday they were weighing whether to cancel the continental showcase.