News / Africa

WHO: Ebola Outbreak 'Vastly Underestimated'

WHO: Ebola Crisis 'Vastly Underestimated'i
Zlatica Hoke
August 16, 2014 3:06 PM
The World Health Organization now says the Ebola crisis that has struck West Africa and taken more than 1,000 lives has been "vastly underestimated." In addition, the Doctors Without Borders humanitarian group says the crisis is likely to last at least another six months. Zlatica Hoke has more on the fight to contain the deadly disease.
Video report by Zlatica Hoke
Anne Look

World Health Organization (WHO) officials on Thursday warned the magnitude of the Ebola outbreak had been "vastly" underestimated.

The U.N. agency said 1,069 people have died of Ebola this year in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The total number of cases is estimated at just under 2,000, but some public health experts, including Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), say many cases are going unreported as patients resist hospitalization and isolation wards, preferring to entrust their care to family members instead.

WHO officials also said in a Thursday statement that they share concerns that current numbers do not reflect the true gravity of the situation. Liberia and Sierra Leone, the two hardest hit countries so far, have reported at least 182 new cases in the past week, and public health authorities in affected countries say additional resources are desperately needed as they scramble to stop the spread of the disease and isolate those already infected.

In Liberia's capital, Monrovia, MSF is building its largest Ebola treatment center yet, which will have 120 beds. MSF also runs a treatment unit in the northern border town of Foya, in Lofa County.

The group’s emergency coordinator, Lindis Hurum, said it is still not enough. 

“Unfortunately, neither of these two units will be sufficient to cover for the need to isolate and care for the patients," she said. "At this stage the outbreak is totally out of control and we need to come up with other strategies to cope with the situation."

Lofa and Montserrado counties are among the hardest hit in Liberia, where health ministry officials are rolling out a new strategy to manage the high volume of suspected cases in those districts. Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyensuah says health workers will go to the patients, instead of the other way around, 

"If there are too many patients in the community, we can move them to a community structure like a school building [to] provide mattresses, provide feeding, provide hygiene kits to them and health promotion kits that we can manage the people until they can transition to a treatment unit,” he said.

In August, both Liberia and Sierra Leone enacted emergency rule and quarantined the most affected districts. Security forces have set up roadblocks and shut borders.

In the Kenema district of Sierra Leone, security forces have stopped movement in or out, measures that residents call drastic. Locals say the restricted mobility and flow of goods is pushing up food prices, but that they are also necessary and overdue.

“When the first time we heard about Ebola, if the measures that are in place now was in place, I want to believe we should have not reached the peak we are presently in,” said one Kenema resident who withheld her identity.

Complexities of containment

Public health officials say an Ebola outbreak can be contained, but that it must to be snuffed out like a forest fire. No embers can be left to burn, and authorities must isolate both confirmed and suspected cases, after which they must then monitor everyone who may have been exposed to a patient’s bodily fluids for 21 days, Ebola's incubation period.

If any one of those people shows symptoms, they too must go into isolation.

But implementing this procedure is easier said than done. Nigeria, for example, has been monitoring nearly 200 contacts related to just one confirmed case, the country’s first, an air traveler from Liberia who died in Lagos in late July.

In Liberia and Sierra Leone, even as quarantine measures have slowed the large-scale movement of people outside their communities, authorities say the sheer number of cases and contacts to trace is overwhelming.

Sierra Leone’s health minister, Miatta Kargbo, says they need more logistical support.

“We need ambulances. We need vehicles for contact tracing and surveillance," she said. "You may have the funds but the ambulances are not available. This is a challenge that we do have. The logistical support, what is needed to support the fight against Ebola, needs to come faster than we’re seeing from the international community.”

Public health experts say it will likely be months before the outbreak is over. Never have there been so many cases of Ebola in so many places at once.

Dr. Liu, international head of Doctors Without Borders, said Friday that Liberia remains a particular problem. She said stabilizing the outbreak there is key for the whole region.

Adam Bailes contributed to this report from Freetown, Prince Collins contributed from Monrovia and Patrick Jackema from Kenema, Sierra Leone.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: yataro from: Japan
August 17, 2014 2:45 AM
Ebola outbreak must be underestimated because to report the case of Ebola leads tragedy for example, losing their house as the movie shows, making their family's life worse.
But making sure the exact number of case and stopping the outbreak of Ebola is really important even some people feel sad.

by: Not Again from: Canada
August 16, 2014 11:32 AM
WHO failed in a massive way to get preventive measures and take effective action to rapidly coordinate and raise the alarm over the Ebola sit in Western Africa, in the early stages of this epidemic. People in charge at WHO have demonstrated poor leadership, they need to be replaced = fired. For months Doctors Without Borders were raising the alarm and were requesting help, all of it to no avail, WHO failed to perform as it should have, those in charge FAILED!
The more human hosts the virus infects, the more the likelyhood that it will mutate and it will become easier to spread. Ebola is out of control, and the fact that people in the affected areas are still clamoring for resources, is indicative that it is nowhere near any potential control. The fact that there are still many, in the affected populations, that do not understand the issue of segregation/ full isolation of the patients, indicates that the necessary educational measures have not been udertaken, or worse that the educational campaign is ineffective.
The chances/possibility of controlling the spread of Ebola, without a clear understanding and cooperation of the affected population is ZERO. Far more needs to be done to ensure the population understands, accepts, and complies with the isolation requirements of potential patients/affected victims.
A regional medical crisis organization needs to be established, with adequate resources, to coordinate and lead the information and educational campaign against Ebola; the campaign needs to be addressed to all the regional tribes and extend into the remote areas/hinterlands of the affected regions and beyond.
In my view, this Ebola epidemic is nearing or maybe it has reached the point of continued active sustainability in the human population = it will continue to expand until such time as an effective vaccine is deployed and the majority of the population is fully vaccinated in the regions in which Ebola has spread. This Ebola epidemic will have a very negative impact on the economies of the region and on regional stability.

by: David Kent from: Florida, USA
August 16, 2014 12:16 AM
Historically, most Ebola outbreaks have around 300 infections, although one had around 400. The current outbreak has around 2000. This one has the potential to be a worldwide epidemic. The Reston, VA virus resulted in the whole Lab being incased in cement. Scientists were afraid that one had gone airborne, although they were mistaken.

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs