Ebola epidemic worsens: W. African nations hold crisis talks as death toll surges

The "worst outbreak in history" has now killed at least 467 people

Published July 2, 2014 2:08PM (EDT)


The drastic action called for to help contain West Africa's out of control Ebola outbreak begins Wednesday, as health ministers from 11 West African nations gather in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, for a two-day crisis meeting aimed at coordinating a regional response.

The meeting comes as the already unprecedented epidemic got even worse: the death toll from Ebola now stands at 467, the World Health Organization announced Tuesday, representing a 17 surge from the previous week. WHO also reported a 20 percent increase in cases -- to 635 -- across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Efforts to control the outbreak continue to be plagued by three main factors: "strong cultural practices and traditional beliefs" facilitating transmission in rural communities; outbreaks in densely populated urban areas; and heavy traffic across the border areas of the three affected countries. The Guardian has much more on the first of those, explaining how fear and ignorance is making it a challenge for health official to convince those at risk that the disease even exists.

In a statement, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared the crisis a national public health emergency, and took a hard line against practioners of traditional and faith-based medicine. "It is illegal under our public health law to expose the people to health hazard such as Ebola," Sirleaf said. "Let this warning go out, anyone found or reported to be holding suspected Ebola cases in homes or prayer houses will be prosecuted under the laws of Liberia."

By Lindsay Abrams

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Ebola Epidemic Guinea Public Health West Africa World Health Organization