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Window for Containing Ebola Outbreak Seen Narrowing

FILE - David Nabarro, special envoy of the U.N. secretary-general, is urging people not to become complacent in the battle against Ebola.

The World Health Organization reports that good progress is being made toward containing the Ebola epidemic, but it warns that the outbreak is far from over and still poses a grave threat.

David Nabarro, special envoy of the U.N. secretary-general, is urging people not to become complacent. Though cases of Ebola are declining, he said, a great deal of hard work remains to get to zero cases and zero transmission.

To prove this point, Nabarro noted that WHO reported 124 new confirmed cases of Ebola this past week, an increase of 25 cases from the previous week.

“There will always be volatility," he said. "Numbers will go up and down, but the more we are able to actively seek out cases and follow up their contacts, the better our results will be. … Now to finish the work off, it will be necessary to continue to bring in materials and people, so that we can undertake the kind of detective work that is necessary … to overcome the disease and also, at the same time, to get basic services back and working again.”

But this takes lots of money. Nabarro said the United Nations needs $1 billion to finish the job — now.

“Money now is worth so much more than money in one month or two months' time," he said. "I think that our anxiety is trying to get the resources in as quickly as possible, so we do not end up with interruptions. That is what is dangerous.”

Bruce Aylward, WHO assistant director-general for polio and emergencies, agrees. He warned that the window of opportunity for getting control of the epidemic is narrowing, and that hunting the virus out of existence will become extremely difficult when the rains start falling in a couple of months in West Africa.

“Right now, our ability to fully exploit the window we have between today and the onset of the rains in April and May is constrained by financing," he said. "There is absolutely no question about it. … This crisis is different than so many other crises that we are dealing with right now, because you have to get to zero. That is the reality. It started with one case. It will end with one case. We have to get to zero.”

The senior Ebola experts are urging people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to remain vigilant and not to revert to behaviors that can spread the virus. They say the disease is transmitted through bodily fluids, so people should refrain from touching each other a lot.

They say unsafe burials are one of several practices that are still driving the epidemic. They say it is premature and, indeed, extremely dangerous for people to resume traditional burial rituals.