September 2014 – GENEVA — The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa risks ballooning into a humanitarian catastrophe without a major surge in international efforts to contain it, senior United Nations officials said Tuesday, estimating the cost of this effort at $1 billion. The number of people affected by the disease is still rising at an “almost exponential” rate, Bruce Aylward, an assistant director general of the World Health Organization, said at a news conference in Geneva. He said the number of reported cases had climbed to 4,985, including 2,461 deaths. Half of the infections and deaths occurred in the past 21 days, he said, underscoring the acceleration of the outbreak. “We don’t really know where the numbers are going with this,” Mr. Aylward said. A road map he announced nearly three weeks ago to guide the international response had called for the capacity to manage 20,000 cases, but “that does not seem like a lot today,” he said. “The numbers can be kept in the tens of thousands,” he said, “but that is going to require a much faster escalation of the response if we are to beat the escalation of the virus.” Mr. Aylward appeared with Valerie Amos, the United Nations’ emergency relief coordinator, and Dr. David Nabarro, the United Nations’ senior system coordinator for Ebola, spelling out the devastating impact of the outbreak on the fragile economies of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the countries at the center of the crisis. “Looking forward,” Mr. Aylward said, “we risk a humanitarian catastrophe if we do not see a rapid scale-up not just of the Ebola response but also the provision of essential services.”
The Ebola outbreak is “much more than a health crisis,” Ms. Amos said, warning that the three countries’ capacity to deliver food and other necessities of daily life was “on the brink of collapse.” Dr. Nabarro said the funding the United Nations estimated was needed to tackle the crisis had jumped tenfold from $100 million a month ago. He justified the increase with the somber assessment that the outbreak would “go on doubling in that sort of frequency if we don’t deal with it.” So far, he said, the appeal has raised about 30 percent of what is needed. Offers of assistance are coming in all the time, he said, but it will take “something quite exceptional” to turn the situation around. The first priority is increasing the number of treatment centers to isolate those infected with disease, Mr. Aylward said, noting that in some areas, infected people are still walking around their communities, and generating more infection. In Liberia, which had three treatment centers with a total capacity of 314 beds last week, Mr. Aylward said, the United Nations now has firm commitments of 500 new beds and expects more in the coming weeks.
Their remarks came in advance of a speech on Tuesday by President Obama announcing an expansion of military and medical resources to combat the spread of Ebola. The American response will focus on Liberia, the worst hit of the three countries. The initiative will include opening a joint command center in Monrovia, the capital, and sending up to 3,000 military officers to train national workers and to build 17 treatment centers, adding about 1,700 beds. Among the latest international contributions to fighting the epidemic, China is sending Sierra Leone a mobile laboratory consisting of 59 clinicians, epidemiologists and nurses from its Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who will join 115 medical staff members it already has working in the country. Throwing money or sending troops at the Ebola problem will not make the Ebola go away. There has to be a comprehensive global plan…It is our responsibility to help the less fortunate. This is one war that we should be fighting. We need our troops to save lives…
“The most urgent immediate need in the Ebola response is for more medical staff,” Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, said in a statement welcoming China’s move as “a huge boost, morally and operationally.” The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said Monday that it had opened a 60-bed treatment center in Kenema, one of the most badly affected cities in Sierra Leone. Letting up new treatment centers requires weeks, however, so one of the main initiatives to “take the heat out of the outbreak” is developing small Ebola “care units” in the community to try to get sick people out of their homes. Despite the scale of the threat, Mr. Aylward saw hope of progress in some areas. “You definitely want to get Nigeria and Senegal, obviously, done quickly,” he said after the news conference. Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, and Guinea’s capital, Conakry, should be freed of the disease soon, he said, and “Guinea should be able to get most of the country free in the very near term as well.” Monrovia still poses a particular challenge, he said. –NY Times