Ebola declared ‘international health emergency’ with nearly 1,000 dead

World Today

Director General of the World Health Organization, China’s Margaret Chan, informs the media after an emergency meeting on Ebola at headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Keystone, Salvatore Di Nolfi)

The World Health Organization Friday declared the Ebola outbreak to be an international public health emergency and would require an extraordinary response to stop its spread. Nearly 1,000 have died from the disease so far.

But Friday’s announcement seemed to frustrate those working on the front lines of the epidemic.

“Statements won’t save lives,” said Dr. Bart Janssens, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders. “For weeks, (we) have been repeating that a massive medical, epidemiological and public health response is desperately needed. Lives are being lost because the response is too slow.”

The organization has been repeating for weeks that the response to the deadly virus has been too slow and therefore lives were being lost.

“I don’t know what the advantage is of declaring an international emergency,” added Dr. David Heymann, who directed WHO’s response to the SARS outbreak and is now a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan said the announcement is “a clear call for international solidarity.” However, she acknowledged that many countries would probably not have any Ebola cases.

“Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own,” Chan said at a news conference in Geneva. “I urge the international community to provide this support on the most urgent basis possible.”

More than 1,700 people have been sickened in the current Ebola outbreak, in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Two American aid workers were returned to the U.S. for treatment after they became infected, and a 75-year-old priest who had been treating people in Liberia was brought back to Spain after he tested positive for Ebola earlier this week.

The fatality rate has been about 60 percent, but it’s possible for people to survive the virus.

“The main difficulty we have today is to find the number of people that have been trained, that are able to set up new treatment centers in the affected countries,” said Iza Ciglenecki, an epidemiologist with the organization. “To get infected you have to be in direct, close contact with someone that is either severely sick or with dead bodies.”

This is the largest and longest outbreak ever recorded of Ebola, which has a death rate of about 50 percent and has so far killed at least 961 people. It emerged in Guinea in March and has since spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria. Since it was first identified in 1976, there have been more than 20 outbreaks in central and eastern Africa — this is the first one to affect West Africa.

Article based on information provided by The Associated Press.