The world’s leading public health voices are all in agreement that West Africa is losing precious time in the fight against its ongoing Ebola outbreak, and the window is closing on containing the virus in the region.
“The level of outbreak is beyond anything we’ve seen–or even imagined,” Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thomas Frieden said at a press conference this week as he returned from a visit to the affected areas— mostly the nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, though Senegal and Nigeria have both reported instances of Ebola infections. Frieden lamented that “the window is closing” on preventing the outbreak from becoming a full epidemic, and the nations on the front lines severely lack the resources to contain the virus.
Citing “roasting hot” protective gear that barely lets doctors move and a lack of basic needs like beds for patients and sanitation tools, Frieden noted that the lack of resources was leading to a greater lack of information in the international community that could result in the failure to protect the rest of the world from the virus. The most concerning issue involving the response on the ground, he noted, was a lack of data. “No data from countries where it’s spreading, no rapid response teams, no trucks, a lack of efficient management… I could not possibly overstate the need for an urgent response,” he said.
Frieden is not the only high-ranking global health official sounding the alarm– or, worse, warning that even a heightened response at this stage of the outbreak may be too little, too late. As the Washington Post reports, international president of Doctors Without Borders Joanne Liu declared in a briefing at the United Nations that the virus has all but won its war on West Africa. “Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it,” she said, describing the situation as “uncharted waters” and decrying the international community for what she deemed a tepid response to the outbreak.
Doctors Without Borders has had some of the strongest words against the international community for its response to the Ebola outbreak. Operations Director Brice de la Vigne previously described the response as “almost zero,” criticizing international governments for focusing on keeping the virus out of their countries, even in cases where cross-contamination is extremely unlikely, while not investing in medical infrastructure in West Africa.
But Doctors Without Borders is nowhere near the only medical organization arguing the matter publicly anymore. Margaret Chan, the director of the World Health Organization, is now calling for a stronger international response as well, stating, “The whole world is responsible and accountable to bring the Ebola threat under control.”
The United Nations recently warned that Ebola cases could reach up to 20,000 as the numbers escalate; currently, the World Health Organization estimates that, as of August 26, the death toll stands at 1,552 and continues to climb, with Nigeria quarantining 271 people suspected to have contracted the virus. In addition to the five-nation outbreak in West Africa, all related to cases stemming out of rural communities in Guinea, 31 people have died of Ebola in the central African nation of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The outbreaks appear unrelated, though both thought to have been triggered by villagers eating “bush meat,” a variety of high-protein but often dangerous animal meats found in the forests of Africa.