With more than one million people affected by the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the World Health Organisation has warned that there is "no early end in sight" to the severe health crisis and called for "extraordinary measures" to stop the transmission of the disease.
According to the latest update issued by the World Health Organisation, 128 new cases of Ebola virus disease, as well as 56 deaths, were reported from Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone between August 10 and 11, bringing the total number of cases to 1,975 and deaths to 1,069.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said more than one million people are affected by the disease and these people need daily material support, including food.
The infected people are in the "hot zone of disease transmission" on the borders of the three countries most impacted by the disease. "There is no early end (to the outbreak) in sight. This is an extraordinary outbreak that requires extraordinary measures for containment. This is a severe health crisis, and it can rapidly become a humanitarian crisis if we do not do more to stop transmission," Chan said during a briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chaired a UN system-wide coordination on Ebola and stressed the need for the entire UN system to support the WHO's efforts in combating the outbreak.
Chan said the outbreak has placed every city with an international airport at risk of an imported case. "Decisions to seal off the hot zone of disease
transmission, that is, the area where the borders of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone intersect, are critical for stopping the re-infection of areas via the cross-border movement of people," she said.
Chan said that the isolation of the zone most affected by the outbreak has made it even more difficult for agencies, like MSF (Doctors without Borders), to bring in staff and supplies.
"The outbreak is unprecedented in its size, severity, and complexity. Cases are occurring in remote rural areas that are difficult to access, but also in capital cities," she said.
She also expressed concern over the "unprecedented" number of health-care workers who have been infected by the virus. So far, nearly 170 health-care workers have been infected and more than 80 have died.
The outbreak is also having serious economic consequences on the countries in the region, threatening to push these countries backwards as airlines are cancelling flights and companies are moving their staff out of the region.
"Six months into the outbreak, fear is proving to be the most difficult barrier to overcome... Fear, and the hostility it can provoke, have threatened the security of national and international response teams," Chan said.
Ban appointed David Nabarro as senior United Nations system coordinator for Ebola, in support of the work done by Chan and her team to counter the outbreak, which the agency has designated a "public health emergency of international concern."
Nabarro would be responsible for ensuring that the UN system makes an effective and coordinated contribution to the global effort to control the outbreak. Meanwhile, a 12-member ethics panel convened by WHO said it is ethical to treat Ebola patients with experimental drugs to counter the largest, most severe and most complex outbreak of the disease in history.
On the operational side, WHO said it is finalising its strategic operations response plan and expects to share it with countries and partners in the coming days.
The UN health agency said that standard measures, like early detection and isolation of cases, contact tracing and monitoring, and rigorous procedures for infection control, have stopped previous Ebola outbreaks including those in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as Gabon.
The Ebola virus is highly contagious, but is not airborne.
Transmission requires close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, as can occur during healthcare procedures, home care, or traditional burial practices, which involve the close contact of family members and friends with bodies.
Image: A man has his temperature taken using an infrared digital laser thermometer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. Photograph: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters