News / Health

Relief Group: Ebola 'Moving Faster' Than It Can Handle

Medical staff working with Medecins sans Frontieres bring food to patients isolated at a treatment center in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, July 20, 2014.
Medical staff working with Medecins sans Frontieres bring food to patients isolated at a treatment center in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, July 20, 2014.
VOA News

The head of an international medical aid group says the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is moving faster that relief workers can respond to it and may take six months to bring under control

Speaking Friday in Geneva after a 10-day trip to the affected region, Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MFS), said more health experts are needed to treat patients.

The region "had the feeling that it is like wartime in terms of ... general fear," she said of her visit, adding that the outbreak's magnitude has strained health care centers.

"We have a total collapse of infrastructure in some places," she said, adding that 80 health care workers have died from Ebola and 170 have been infected.

“In terms of stability, I think that in Guinea, because they have been dealing with this for five months, has more measures being put in place," she said. "They have more capacity as well as a greater understanding of what is going on."

Liberia targeted

While infections in both Sierra Leone and Liberia continue to grow at a steady rate, she said the situation in Liberia is the most dangerous and in dire need of urgent stabilization.

"If we do not stabilize Liberia, we will never stabilize the whole region,” she said.

Liu also criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) for waiting until Aug. 8 to label Ebola a "public health emergency of international concern," saying the organization needed to show stronger leadership.

"Now we have to find out how that [statement] is translated to concrete action in the field," Liu said. "A statement will save lives only if followed up on the ground."

Combatting the outbreak, which Liu said will take about six months to bring under control, requires "people with a hands-on operational mindset."

Also Friday, international Red Cross chief Elhadj As Sy echoed some of Liu's concerns, saying the outbreak had stretched capacities of the group's relief partners "to the maximum."

"We need to be vigilant because we have seen in the past that as soon as you start getting complacent and see that cases are going down, then you slow down your response [and risk a] relapse," he said.

Outbreak 'vastly' underestimated

On Thursday, the WHO 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 Liu, say many cases are going unreported as patients resist hospitals and isolation wards, preferring to entrust their care to family members instead.

In a statement, the U.N. health agency said it was concerned those 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.

Public health authorities in affected countries say they need more resources as they scramble to stop the spread of the disease and isolate those already infected.

Treatment centers

In Monrovia, Liberia, 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.

Lofa and Montserrado counties are among the hardest hit in Liberia, whose health ministry is 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. 

“Making sure that that patient cannot infect other household members and providing some level of care at the household level," 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. 

There is no known cure or vaccine for Ebola, though a WHO panel this week backed plans to give some patients unproven drugs to fight the virus.

A limited supply of an untested, U.S.-produced drug, known as ZMapp, arrived Wednesday in Liberia, where it will be given to two doctors.

Officials there must now decide who will else receive the remaining doses of the drug, supplies of which could take months to refill.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama stressed the U.S. is committed to working with West African countries to help contain the outbreak.

The White House said Obama underscored his commitment on separate phone calls Thursday to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma.

VOA West Africa Correspondent Anne Look contributed to this report, along with Lisa Schlein in Geneva, Adam Bailes in Freetown, Prince Collins in Monrovia and Patrick Jackema in Kenema, Sierra Leone. Some information for this report comes from Reuters.

You May Like

Pakistan Among Developing Counties Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: anonymous
August 16, 2014 1:08 PM
Gukhurahundi in Zimbabwe outstripped Ebola with the loss of approximately 20,000 lives and the world did nothing, something people seem to have completely forgotten about.

by: Blamah B. Sirleaf from: Liberia
August 15, 2014 12:40 PM
Firstly i will like to extend my thanks and appreciation to our international partner for their continuous support in curing this deadly virus, also hoping on the almighty God to save our continent form this Ebola virus.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigationsi
Katherine Gypson
December 01, 2015 10:06 PM
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigations

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

While HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined in many European countries, the caseload has grown rapidly in Russia, as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow. Over half of the new infections were transmitted through injection drug use.

Video Pakistan Hit Hard by Global Warming

As world leaders meet in Paris to craft a new global agreement aimed at cutting climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions, many developing countries are watching closely for the final results. While most developing nations contribute much less to global warming than developed countries, they often feel the effects to a disproportionate degree. As Saud Zafar reports from Karachi, one such nation is Pakistan. Aisha Khalid narrates his report.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

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 After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

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 Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

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.

VOA Blogs