Fears of further Ebola spread as death toll climbs to 7,000

immunological research in the laboratory, test tubes and pipetteGENEVA, Switzerland, Tuesday December 2, 2014 – Two months after the World Health Organisation (WHO) embarked on an ambitious plan to stop Ebola in its tracks, the number of people killed by the deadly disease has climbed to 7,000, while the total number infected has passed the 16,000 mark.

The WHO had planned to contain the killer virus by isolating 70 percent of the victims in the three hardest-hit West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone by December 1.

But in Liberia, only 23 percent of cases are reportedly isolated, with 26 percent of the required burial teams in place.

In Sierra Leone, about 40 percent are isolated while 27 percent of burial teams are prepared and ready.

Only Guinea, where the first death in the current outbreak was recorded almost a year ago, is on track to meet the December 1 goal, according to a WHO update.

Back in October, WHO’s Dr Bruce Aylward acknowledged that reaching the December 1 goal would be “really pushing the system hard.”

“If we don’t do it in 60 days and we take 90 days: No. 1, a lot more people will die that shouldn’t; and No. 2, we will need that much more capacity on the ground to be able to manage the caseload,” he said.

Fast-forward to the present and the December 1 targets have been met in many areas, but not all, which was the goal, said Anthony Banbury, who is heading the UN’s Ebola response.

“There are still going to be many people who catch the disease and many people who die from it,” Banbury warned.

“We’re by no means out of the woods yet, but we’re headed in the right direction,” he added.

But even if the December 1 targets had been attained, WHO and other experts had predicted that Ebola would continue infecting people in West Africa and possibly elsewhere well into 2015.

Oyewale Tomori, who sits on WHO’s Emergency Ebola committee, said failing to reach the target now suggests Ebola will spread even further as capacities to respond become more stretched.

“We need to redouble our efforts to see what we can do to reduce the spread and catch up with the virus,” he said. “Right now, it doesn’t look good.”

While there have been some successes in curbing the killer disease in recent weeks, with cases in Liberia and Guinea appearing to be stabilising, areas around Sierra Leone’s capital and in the country’s north are seeing an alarming upsurge in cases.

Guinean authorities first reported the outbreak of the virus to the World Health Organisation in March, after it had been positively identified as Ebola. The disease had spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone by May, and was spiralling out of control by the time it was declared a public health emergency in August.

WHO now plans to isolate all Ebola patients and provide safe burials by January 1, 2015.

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