The United Nations secretary-general said Friday that he will open a branch of the special U.N. mission to fight Ebola in Mali, which has had six fatal cases of the virus in recent weeks.
Ban Ki-moon spoke in Washington, where he went for talks on Ebola with the head of the World Bank and the chief of the World Health Organization.
He said that while there has been progress in fighting the outbreak in West Africa, results have been uneven and the recent emergence of a handful of cases in Mali is of particular concern.
Ban announced that he had spoken with Mali’s president and that the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) would urgently establish an office in Mali.
“Decisive national action combined with international support today will help to prevent a spread of the outbreak in Mali to crisis proportions tomorrow,” he said.
Ban said he was immediately dispatching to Bamako the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, and the chief of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, to conduct intensive discussions on how the U.N. system can help stop Ebola in Mali.
Chan said some 500 people are being monitored for signs of the virus in Mali. They came into contact with an imam from Guinea who traveled to Bamako for treatment and then died of the disease. She cautioned against complacency in the region.
"Yes, we are seeing some early signals of hope, cases are stabilizing, but as Mr. Secretary-General was saying, we are also seeing some new areas where they are reporting new cases. So the answer is we must maintain our vigilance. Complacency would be our enemy," said Chan.
New cases slowing
Ban said that in countries where the Ebola response strategy has been implemented, the rate of new cases appears to be slowing.
“If we continue to accelerate our response, we can contain and end the outbreak by the middle of next year,” said Ban.
In New York, during a briefing to the U.N. Security Council on the Ebola response, the U.N. system coordinator for Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, said the U.N. will need $1.5 billion through March 2015 to cover the response effort. Currently, there is a $600 million shortfall.
Nabarro told reporters the U.N. is making progress in reaching goals to stop the spread of Ebola.
“I think we are pretty confident that the 70 percent safe burials is probably, in most places now, being achieved. The 70 percent of people with Ebola under treatment — we are moving rapidly in that direction; I can’t say at this stage whether or not we will reach it," said Nabarro. "So, confident, no, but very pleased with the way in which things have advanced on access to treatment, yes.”
Council members expressed their support for UNMEER and their concern about the extent of the Ebola outbreak, including in Mali, and thanked countries for their contributions.
Earlier Friday, the WHO said the death toll in the Ebola epidemic had risen to 5,459 out of more than 15,000 cases. The cases are in eight countries, with the majority in three West African nations — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It cautions, though, that the numbers of cases and deaths continue to be underreported, and said Friday that DRC health officials remain on high alert for the disease.
Also Friday, the WHO declared an end to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The outbreak — unrelated to the one affecting West Africa — was centered in Congo's northwestern Equateur province and killed at least 49 people.
The WHO released a statement Friday saying it has been 42 days, or twice the maximum incubation period, since a new case of Ebola has been detected in the DRC. The WHO declaration confirms a statement by the DRC government last week that the outbreak there is over.
Meanwhile, a Cuban doctor who contracted Ebola arrived Friday for treatment in Switzerland, where doctors say he is in stable condition.
The Ebola virus was first discovered in the DRC in 1976, when the country was known as Zaire, and is named after a river in northern Congo.