Ebola toll hits 2,400 as Cuba pledges medics

12th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

The worst-ever outbreak of Ebola fever has now killed more than 2,400 people, the UN said on Friday, as Cuba pledged the largest foreign medical team deployed so far in the west African health crisis.

The head of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, warned the spiralling tropical epidemic demanded a stronger, faster response from the international community.

"In the three hardest-hit countries, the number is moving faster than the capacity to manage them," she told a news conference in Geneva.

The alarm call came as the UN vowed its peacekeeping force in Liberia -- one of the worst-affected countries along with Guinea and Sierra Leone -- would "stay the course" against Ebola.

"As of 12 September, we are at 4,784 cases and more than 2,400 deaths," a jump of around 100 since the WHO's previous toll on Tuesday, the UN health chief said.

She did not specify if the figures also included Nigeria, which has reported 18 cases, seven fatal, since the deadliest Ebola outbreak on record began in Guinea at the start of the year.

Transmitted through bodily fluids, the tropical virus leads to haemorrhagic fever and -- in over half of cases -- death. There is no specific treatment regime and no licensed vaccine.

- 'We need people' -

Another 500 foreign health professionals and around 1,000 local doctors and nurses are needed to stop its deadly surge through west Africa, the UN health agency said.

"The thing we need most of all is people," Chan told a joint news conference with Cuban Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda.

Cuba pledged to send 165 doctors and nurses to Sierra Leone, where more than 500 people have so far died -- a commitment Chan hailed as the "largest" so far.

Starting the first week of October, the 62 doctors and 103 nurses will remain for six months in Sierra Leone, Ojeda said.

All have "previously participated in post-catastrophe situations," and all volunteered for the mission, he said, adding that some were already in the country.

- Not a single bed -

In neighbouring Liberia, Chan said there is not a single bed left to treat Ebola patients.

The UN said its peacekeepers will not abandon the country, whose war-ravaged health services were on the slow road to recovery when the Ebola outbreak began.

"We are here to stay the course and to help the people of Liberia and its neighbours to get through this terrible crisis," UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told AFP late Thursday.

Ladsous was in Liberia to assess how the mission, known as UNMIL, can support the fight against Ebola and has held meetings with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and cabinet ministers.

The UN mission has been in the country since the end of 14 years of devastating civil war in 2003 but has been downsizing from a peak of 15,000 troops.

"One has to recognise that a peacekeeping mission is not a public health operator," Ladsous said.

"But at the same time, we are there to support the country... to solve the root causes of a very long crisis."

Health workers in Liberia reported being overwhelmed by new Ebola cases on Wednesday, with the WHO predicting an "exponential increase" in infections across the region.

The agency says that among Liberia's 2,300 cases and 1,200 deaths, some 152 health workers have been infected and 79 have died.

Ladsous said the actual toll was probably considerably higher.

"We know that the actual numbers of victims are definitely higher and that as days pass they rise exponentially. Now it is -- everyone recognises -- a particularly bad time in Liberia," he said.

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© 2014 AFP

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