(CNN) — Global health experts on Friday declared the Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa an international health emergency that requires a coordinated global approach.
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are battling the Ebola virus, which has also spread to Nigeria. The virus is believed to have infected 1,779 people, killing 961, from the start of the outbreak earlier this year through Wednesday, the World Health Organization said.
“The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus, the intensive community and health facility transmission patterns, and the weak health systems in the currently affected and most at-risk countries,” WHO said Friday after two days of emergency meetings.
The U.N. health agency described it as the worst outbreak in the four-decade history of tracking the disease.
Medical aid groups applauded the designation but said that it alone won’t reduce fatalities.
“Declaring Ebola an international public health emergency shows how seriously WHO is taking the current outbreak, but statements won’t save lives,” said Dr. Bart Janssens, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian organization.
“Now we need this statement to translate into immediate action on the ground. For weeks, MSF has been repeating that a massive medical, epidemiological and public health response is desperately needed to save lives and reverse the course of the epidemic,” said Janssens, using the initials for his organization’s French name, Medecins Sans Frontieres.
The agency said it has nearly 700 staff responding to the crisis in the affected countries. “All our Ebola experts are mobilized, we simply cannot do more,” Janseens said.