The Ebola outbreak deemed “totally out of control” by a public health official last week continues to take a deadly toll across West Africa, the World Health Organization reports. A total of 399 people have died across Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the agency said in a statement, and at least 635 cases have been reported, making the outbreak “the largest in terms of the number of cases and deaths as well as geographical spread.”
“This is no longer a country-specific outbreak but a sub-regional crisis that requires firm action by governments and partners,” Luis Sambo, WHO’s regional director for Africa, said. “WHO is gravely concerned of the ongoing cross-border transmission into neighboring countries as well as the potential for further international spread.”
The numbers seem small, compared to other epidemics, but there are a number of reasons why the Ebola outbreak has public health officials particularly worried. There’s no vaccine for the Ebola virus, meaning that health workers need to prevent people from getting it in the first place. The outbreak, however, is widespread: crossing borders and popping up in crowded urban centers, complicating efforts to identify and contain potential cases. Misinformation and stigma abounds among potential victims, sometimes preventing them from receiving proper care. And the governments of the affected countries appeared unprepared to deal with the outbreak, lacking the proper health systems needed to effectively contain and control it.
Relief doesn’t appear immediately forthcoming, said Francis Kasolo, the WHO’s director of disease prevention and control for Africa: “We still think we have another three to four months to go with the epidemic, but the duration will be influenced by how national governments and affected communities respond.”