Targets on tackling 'stupid' Ebola being met, says WHO

1st December 2014, Comments 0 comments

Targets to reduce the spread of Ebola by isolating patients and burying bodies safely have been reached in Liberia and Guinea, with Sierra Leone set to follow within weeks, the World Health Organization said Monday.

The WHO's Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward said it is stepping up its efforts to trace people who had close contact with Ebola victims, with a goal of halting the epidemic by mid-2015.

The response had shown that "you can catch up with Ebola, even on this scale", he said.

He said cases in the three worst affected west African countries was fairly stable, from 1,000 a week in early October to 1,100 now.

The WHO set a "70-70-60" target on October 1 to have 70 percent of Ebola patients isolated in treatment centres in the three countries and to ensure that 70 percent of the bodies of victims are buried safely within 60 days.

Aylward said the target had been met in everything except Sierra Leone's isolation rate, which he said was being skewed by rising cases in the west of the country and should be met "in coming weeks".

He said the "prognosis for Sierra Leone is actually very good".

But he stressed: "There is no room for optimism when you are dealing with the Ebola virus. It's not about low numbers, it's about zero."

A WHO situation report published on November 26 indicated that Liberia was also missing its isolation target, but Aylward said that was based on incomplete data.

"The challenge now that the disease numbers have fallen (in Liberia) was to shift from the sense of being hunted by this virus to actually hunting it down," he said.

This meant scaling up the number of people involved in contact tracing, from 5,000-6,000 currently to 20,000, including 350-400 international WHO staff.

"To get to zero you have to find every single case," he said.

- 'Stupidest of viruses' -

One favourable aspect of Ebola is that "this is one of the stupidest viruses" due to the short time in which it can be spread and the clear path it follows, which means it can be tracked from person to person, he said.

But he urged the international community not to lose interest.

Of the $1.55 billion pledged for the Ebola fight, about $920 million had been delivered. The shortfall meant that in some areas, "a lot of things have been done on the cheap", he said.

He also warned that in Liberia, which has seen a sharp reduction in new cases, there were signs of "a sense of complacency setting in".

Another target -- 100-100-90, for 100 percent isolation of patients and 100 percent safe burials by January 1 -- is still in place but will be "challenging" to meet, Aylward said.

He said the geographical spread of the virus in Guinea was worrying, having jumped from nine prefectures on October 1 to 16 today and said that this is what had permitted the virus to jump to Mali, twice.

© 2014 AFP

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