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WHO: Ebola a Sub-regional Crisis

  • Joe DeCapua

Health workers teach people about the Ebola virus and how to prevent infection, in Conakry, Guinea, March 31, 2014.

Health workers teach people about the Ebola virus and how to prevent infection, in Conakry, Guinea, March 31, 2014.

The World Health Organization says drastic action is needed to control the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The WHO is ramping up its response by deploying 150 experts to the region. As of June 23, there have been 635 confirmed Ebola cases and 399 deaths.

The WHO reported the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is “the largest in terms of the number of cases and deaths, as well as the geographic spread of the disease.”

WHO spokesman Dan Epstein said, “It’s a big challenge for the three countries because it’s in rural areas. It’s spread across borders. It’s also been seen in a city. And it’s raised severe concern because it’s being transmitted in the community, and it has been seen to be transmitted in health care settings.”

The World Health Organization calls the outbreak “a sub-regional crisis that requires firm action by governments and partners.” The WHO, the Global Alert and Response Network, and others are deploying a wide range of experts.

Epstein said, “Basically, we are putting together the best and the brightest that we can find in a series of teams. One is epidemiologists, who are going to the countries, working with the health ministers and the local health officials in surveillance and monitoring the outbreak. Where is it? Where are cases? How did they get transmitted?”

He said more laboratory workers will help speed diagnoses and confirm whether or not suspected cases are indeed Ebola. They’ll support mobile field labs sent into rural areas.

“And then kind of the toughest part of it is clinical management experts that know how to handle people with severe hemorrhaging and what you can do. They’re working with these clinics and these other health facilities to help them treat affected patients. Another key issue is infection prevention and control. We have to make sure that we stop health care facility transmission of the virus and community level transmission of the virus,” he said.

Others include logistics experts, who’ll “dispatch” needed equipment and supplies -- and social mobilization and risk communication teams. They’ll help communicate with the local population about the dangers of Ebola.

“You cannot hide a person who has Ebola. And that’s what people have been trying to do. If they see someone who’s sick, they’re afraid. They hide them. If someone in a village, who has Ebola, dies, you cannot continue your normal funeral practices of washing the body – having close contact with the body – mourning the body for extended periods. You have to bury the person quickly and that’s it. And so those are messaging challenges,” said Epstein.

The World Health Organization is convening a meeting of health ministers from 11 countries -- and other officials -- July 2 and 3 in Accra, Ghana.

“They’re going to develop a comprehensive operational response. They want to see what everyone can do to control the Ebola outbreak. Ministries of health of the three most affected countries are reporting on their preventive and control measures,” he said.

The WHO has issued a statement saying it is “gravely concerned” about the on-going cross border transmission of Ebola and the potential for its spread beyond Africa.

One problem for health workers is the lack of access to rural areas due to fear of the disease. Some workers have been threatened by villagers throwing stones or wielding machetes.

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