The outbreak of Ebola raging across West Africa that has killed more than 1,000 people may be far worse than the reported cases suggest, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
While the WHO has said 1,069 people have died of 1,975 infected by the virus, “staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the number of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak,” the agency said on Thursday in a statement on its website.
The virus has spread through Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia and recently reached Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. While Ebola, which can cause bleeding from the eyes, ears and nose, has killed as many as 90 percent of those infected in the past, in this outbreak more than 40 percent of the sickened have survived. Researchers are quickening their efforts to test experimental medicines and vaccines for the virus.
“WHO is coordinating a massive scaling up of the international response, marshaling support from individual countries, disease control agencies, agencies within the United Nations system, and others,” the agency said in its statement.
“These steps align with recognition of the extraordinary measures needed, on a massive scale, to contain the outbreak in settings characterized by extreme poverty, dysfunctional health systems, a severe shortage of doctors, and rampant fear,” the WHO said.
Aids groups such as Doctors Without Borders, with almost 700 workers in the affected region, have criticised the WHO and governments including the US for failing to recognize the devastation being caused since January by the spread of the deadly virus. It’s the first time Ebola has appeared in West Africa.
The WHO on Aug. 8 declared the Ebola outbreak an international public health emergency. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has already deployed health specialists to the region, will send 50 additional public-health workers during the next month. The federal government since March has dedicated $ 14.6 million to help control the virus, government officials have said.
There is no approved cure for Ebola, and normal treatment involves keeping patients hydrated, replacing lost blood and using antibiotics to fight opportunistic infections. The hope is that a patient’s immune system will eventually fight off the virus’s aggressive attack.
Two American health workers infected with the virus in Liberia have received an experimental medicine from Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. and appear to be improving. Mapp’s antibody is one of a several experimental treatments in development.
The Canadian government has said it will donate as many as 1,000 doses of a vaccine that could help protect medical workers as they fight Ebola in West Africa, though it may take at least a month as officials weigh whether it is safe.