Close to 2,000 people have died from Ebola, and the number is expected to rise.
Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been most affected, but health officials around the world are stressing the importance of prevention, in countries not yet affected, like Zimbabwe.
Despite warnings and efforts to contain Ebola, especially in the West African countries of Nigeria, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the disease continues to claim lives. Inadequate funding notwithstanding, World Health Organization director general Margaret Chan, says misinformation is partly responsible for the continued spread.
Chan says, “Let’s be honest, the disease is very serious. And we are seeing anywhere between 30, 40 to 50 percent of mortality. So it is understandable that people get nervous, they want to run away from the disease, they don’t want to go to hospital, and so we do need good communication, through media, through local leaders, to help people understand, first and foremost how to prevent the disease.”
Speaking at a press conference hosted by the United Nations Foundation, in Washington DC on Wednesday, Dr. Chan, together with her colleague Dr. Keiji Fukuda and the United Nation’s specialist on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, said all efforts are being taken to control the disease, which they say could last close to nine-months.
Dr. Chan said denial, discrimination and fear that Ebola means death, could extend Ebola’s terror.
“We also need to talk about 50 percent of the people who survive the disease, and so it is important not to send the wrong message saying that you are going to die, getting Ebola. If you come forward, things can be done. Also communities are being punished for getting the disease, so all these are factors, making stigmatization, making the outbreak control very difficult.”
Countries like Zimbabwe, not directly affected by the virus, are also being urged to be on high alert. Dr. Fukuda applauded efforts by Zimbabwe’s Health Minister David Parirenyatwa and government, who have urged citizens not to travel to affected countries, and have facilities in place to respond to the needs of anyone found to have Ebola.
Fukuda said preparedness is the first step. “So for people to simply understand that it is a realistic possibility that an infected traveler can come to your country is step number one. And so I think this is one of the things that Zimbabwe is trying to make that point understood. And the other thing is how good is the surveillance system, can you effectively detect people who have an illness that looks like Ebola, or perhaps another serious infection. And then once you identify those people, what do you do.”
In a previous interview with VOA Studio 7, Dr. Parirenyatwa said the country is taking all precautions necessary.
Fukuda said WHO and all other international countries will provide help where needed.
“We have about 140-country officers that are located in countries that have a very close relationship with various countries, we have six regional officers that on a regional basis, have that, but frequently, even in Geneva, individual countries, will ask for assistance and so there is a lot of contact between individual countries and WHO and individuals.”
Senior U.N. system coordinator for Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, stressed the importance of co-operation between countries, and maintaining hope despite what seems to be an unstoppable disease, that is expected to affect close to 20,000.
“I have sought so far, not to use language or style, which encourages people to perceive that is something that we cannot deal with. I want to be very clear that this is doable with the institution and resources that we have. But scale-up is needed of what is 3-4 times what is already in place.”
The cost of treating the disease has been pegged at $600 million, but many say that may not be enough.