UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. and the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders each issued urgent appeals Tuesday for international aid to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Senior United Nations officials urged diplomats to cable their capitals to send money, doctors and protective gear to the affected region. The doctors’ group called for countries to send civilian and military biohazard experts.
U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said Tuesday at a General Assembly meeting that the outbreak was “a test to international solidarity.”
More than 3,500 cases have been confirmed, with more than 1,500 deaths, making the outbreak the largest and most complex since 1976. Three countries in West Africa — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — account for most of the cases, but there have also been confirmed cases in Nigeria and Senegal. A separate strain of the virus has been detected farther east, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 53 cases confirmed, U.N. officials said.
Public health officials said the rate at which new cases are being identified is rising. “We understand the outbreak is moving out of our grasp,” said David Nabarro, the U.N. special envoy for the Ebola crisis.
Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organization, said Tuesday that “the outbreak will get worse before it gets better, and it requires a well-coordinated big surge of outbreak response urgently.” Her agency has described the outbreak as “a global threat.”
U.N. officials said it was impossible to predict how many more people would be infected, and warned that the virus could spread further. The virus was apparently carried to Nigeria by an infected traveler who flew to Lagos, the country’s commercial capital, from Liberia. It has since been detected in Port Harcourt, a bustling oil city in the south. Senegal reported a confirmed case of Ebola after someone carrying the virus traveled by land from neighboring Guinea, slipping through the cracks of a system meant to monitor travelers.
A number of airlines have stopped flying in and out of West African capitals. But Dr. Chan said a better way to bring the outbreak under control would be to improve screening of passengers at airports, rather than restricting air travel.
The disruptions caused by the outbreak have already led to food shortages in the most severely affected countries, and may affect the rice and maize harvests, the Food and Agriculture Organization said Tuesday.
Doctors Without Borders criticized WHO on Tuesday for not acting sooner to bring the outbreak under control. The doctors’ group’s international president, Joanne Liu, told diplomats at the United Nations that countries with expertise in handling biological threats should help the affected countries by setting up mobile laboratories and field hospitals to treat Ebola patients.
Because the virus is transmitted very readily through contact with fluids, medical caregivers have been prominent among victims of the outbreak so far. A U.S. missionary doctor who had been treating obstetrics patients in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, has now been diagnosed with Ebola, a Christian missionary organization called SIM announced Tuesday.
WHO is to convene a meeting of scientists later this week to decide how to put to use experimental vaccines against Ebola.united nations - Nigeria - West Africa - Africa - Guinea - Margaret Chan