UN launches mission to halt worldwide Ebola spread

2nd October 2014, Comments 0 comments

The UN on Thursday launched a mission to prevent Ebola spreading worldwide as the epidemic moved into the last uninfected areas in Liberia and the US scrambled to contain its own outbreak to one case.

Anthony Banbury, the special representative for the UN Mission on Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), was expected to set ambitious targets for action on the crisis as he began a tour of the three worst-hit nations, starting in the Liberian capital Monrovia.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told Banbury the virus had spread to all 15 counties of Liberia, the worst-hit nation with almost two-thirds of the 3,338 deaths in west Africa.

"Affected people are leaving from urban places and hiding out in remote communities," Sirleaf said, according to a statement issued by her office following the meeting on Wednesday.

"If we do not move in as quickly as possible, the virus (will) further spread in rural areas."

Sirleaf had said in an interview on Wednesday that the situation in Monrovia was showing signs of stabilising, without providing details.

Banbury was due to address the media before moving on to Sierra Leone and then Guinea over the coming days.

US health officials, meanwhile, were scouring the Dallas area in the state of Texas for people who came in contact with a Liberian man diagnosed with Ebola.

The man first sought treatment in Texas on September 25 but hospital officials have admitted he may have come into contact with many more people than first thought because an apparent miscommunication among staff resulted in his release back into the community for several days.

Ebola is spread through close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, and can only be transmitted when a patient is showing symptoms such as fever, aches, bleeding, vomiting or diarrhoea.

- 'International crisis' -

The man -- the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola on US soil -- flew from Liberia and arrived in Texas September 20 to visit family. He fell ill on September 24. He is in serious but stable condition.

The Liberian government expressed "regret" on Thursday over the spread of Ebola from Monrovia to the US, adding that the incident had demonstrated "the clear international dimension of this Ebola crisis".

The incubation period for Ebola is between two and 21 days. Patients are not contagious until they start to have symptoms but once the disease takes hold it can lead to massive bleeding and fatal organ failure.

The World Health Organization said in its latest situation update there was still a "significant shortfall" in capacity in west Africa, with 1,500 more beds needed in Liberia and 450 in Sierra Leone.

Around 160 health professionals pledged by Cuba to Sierra Leone arrived Thursday, according to an AFP correspondent at the airport near Freetown.

Meanwhile Doctors Without Borders, the global aid agency leading the response in west Africa, with 3,000 staff including some 250 Western volunteers, has criticised the inadequacy of international aid, saying it desperately needs medical teams rather than cash.

Britain asked for foreign help to battle Ebola in Sierra Leone, a former colony, on Thursday at a London conference gathering ministers, diplomats and health officials from around 20 countries and world organisations.

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, whose country has seen more than 600 deaths, had been due to attend but his plane broke down.

- 'Terrifying' infection rate -

A charity, Save the Children, warned as the conference began that five people are being infected with Ebola every hour in Sierra Leone and demand for treatment beds is far outstripping supply.

If the current "terrifying" rate of infection continues, 10 people will be infected every hour with the deadly virus in the country by the end of October, the London-based group warned.

"We need a coordinated international response that ensures treatment centres are built and staffed immediately," chief executive Justin Forsyth said in a statement.

Britain has pledged £120 million ($190 million, 150 million euros) to help build an estimated 700 treatment beds, fund new community treatment centres, support existing public health services and support aid agencies in Sierra Leone.

The United Nations has announced its first suspected victim of Ebola, a Liberian man who worked for the UN mission in Liberia and died of a probable but unconfirmed infection last week.

In response to the fast-moving outbreak, the World Bank boosted its aid to the campaign by adding $170 million toward expanding the health-care workforce and buying needed supplies for care and treatment.

The new aid took to $400 million the amount the bank has put toward the fight against the spread of Ebola, which has swept quickly through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

© 2014 AFP

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