Ebola outbreak ion West Africa 'totally out of control'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 June, 2014, 1:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 June, 2014, 1:47am


The Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa is "totally out of control," according to a senior official for Doctors Without Borders, who said the medical group is stretched to the limit in its capacity to respond.

International organisations and the governments involved needed to send in more health experts and increase the public education messages about how to stop the spread of the disease, Bart Janssens, the director of operations for the group in Brussels, said yesterday.

Ebola has already been linked to more than 330 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, according to the latest numbers released by the World Health Organisation.

"The reality is clear that the epidemic is now in a second wave," Janssens said. "And, for me, it is totally out of control."

The outbreak, which began in Guinea either late last year or early this year, had appeared to slow before picking up pace again in recent weeks, including spreading to the Liberian capital for the first time.

"I'm absolutely convinced that this epidemic is far from over and will continue to kill a considerable amount of people, so this will definitely end up the biggest ever," Janssens said.

Earlier in the week, Fadela Chaib, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organisation, said the multiple locations of the outbreak and its movement across borders made it one of the "most challenging Ebola outbreaks ever."

The outbreak showed no sign of abating and that governments and international organizations were "far from winning this battle," Unni Krishnan, head of disaster preparedness and response for Plan International, said yesterday.

But Janssens' description of the Ebola outbreak was even more alarming, and he said that he did not think enough was being done to respond to it.

"There needs to be a real political commitment that this is a very big emergency," he said. "Otherwise, it will continue to spread, and for sure it will spread to more countries."

With more than 40 international staff on the ground and four treatment centres, Doctors Without Borders had reached its limit, he said, even though the situation required more.

"It's the first time in an Ebola epidemic where [Doctors Without Borders] teams cannot cover all the needs, at least for treatment centres," he said.

The governments involved and international agencies were definitely struggling to keep up with the severity of the outbreak, said Krishnan of Plan.

"The affected countries are at the bottom of the human development index," he said in an emailed statement. "Ebola is seriously crippling their capacities to respond effectively in containing the spread."

Janssens said this outbreak was particularly challenging because it began in an area where people were very mobile and had spread to even more densely populated areas. The disease typically struck sparsely populated areas in central or eastern Africa and so was less easily spread, he said. By contrast, the epicentre of this outbreak was near a major regional transport hub, Gueckedou in Guinea.

He said the only way to stop the disease's spread was to persuade people to come forward when symptoms occured and to avoid touching the sick and dead.

"There is still not a real change of behaviour of the people," he said. "So a lot of sick people still remain in hiding or continue to travel. And there is still news that burial practices are remaining dangerous."