September 2014 – AFRICA – The killer virus is spreading like wildfire, Liberia’s defense minister said on Tuesday he pleaded for UN assistance. A German Ebola expert tells DW the virus must “burn itself out” in that part of the world. His statement might alarm many people. But Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg told DW that he and his colleagues are losing hope for Sierra Leone and Liberia, two of the countries worst hit by the recent Ebola epidemic. “The right time to get this epidemic under control in these countries has been missed,” he said. That time was May and June. “Now it is too late.” Schmidt-Chanasit expects the virus will “burn itself out” in this part of the world. With other words: It will more or less infect everybody and half of the population – in total about five million people – could die. Stop the virus from spilling over to other countries. Schmidt-Chanasit knows that it is a hard thing to say. He stresses that he doesn’t want international help to stop. Quite the contrary: He demands “massive help.” For Sierra Leone and Liberia, though, he thinks “it is far from reality to bring enough help there to get a grip on the epidemic.” According to the virologist, the most important thing to do now is to prevent the virus from spreading to other countries, “and to help where it is still possible, in Nigeria and Senegal for example.” Moreover, much more money has to be put into evaluating suitable vaccines, he added.
In the headquarters of Welthungerhilfe, a German non-governmental aid organization that is engaged in helping with the Ebola epidemic, Schmidt-Chanasit’s statement causes much contempt. Such declarations “are not very constructive,” a spokeswoman said. Jochen Moninger, Sierra Leone based coordinator of Welthungerhilfe, told DW, Schmidt-Chanasit’s statement is “dangerous and moreover, not correct.” Moninger has been living in Sierra Leone for four years and has experienced the Ebola outbreak there from the beginning. “The measures are beginning to show progress,” he says. “The problem is solvable – the disease can be stemmed. If I had lost hope completely, I would pack my things and take my family out of here,” Moninger adds. Instead, he and his family will stay. In Sierra Leone, the government has ordered a quarantine of 21 days for every household in which an Ebola case occurred. Soldiers and police are guarding these houses preventing anyone who has come into contact with an Ebola patient from leaving. According to Moninger, that is exactly the right thing to do: isolating sick people – should it be necessary, even with military force.
She admits, though, that the situation especially in Liberia is “very intense.” The government is completely outstripped and as soon as a new Ebola treatment center has opened, it is overflowed by patients, she says, adding that Liberia has the highest number of cases and deaths in West Africa with a 60 percent case-fatality rate. The situation is getting worse after 80 health workers, doctors and nurses, have died after contracting the disease. The WHO even expects thousands of new cases of Ebola in Liberia over the next few weeks. –DW
“The number of new cases is increasing exponentially,” the WHO said, calling the situation a “dire emergency with … unprecedented dimensions of human suffering.” –CNN