Ebola: UN mission readies to start work as virus death toll surpasses 3,000

Ebola response: medical supplies, including protective equipment and essential medicine, are loaded onto trucks at the Lungi International Airport in Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone. Photo: UNICEF/Sulaiman Stephens

26 September 2014 – The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today said it is intensifying its cooperation with a wide range of partners trying to accelerate work on experimental therapies and vaccines as it announced that Ebola has now sickened more than 6,500 and killed more than 3,000.

“Exposure of health-care workers to EVD (Ebola Virus Disease) continues to be an alarming feature of this outbreak,” WHO said in its latest update based on information from the hardest-hit countries, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where health systems have begun to buckle under the pressure of closed or overflowing hospitals, the difficulties of staffing newly opened treatment centres, and the exceptionally large number of deaths among health care workers.

In a separate update on “Experimental therapies: growing interest in the use of whole blood or plasma from recovered Ebola patients”, WHO said the need to expand the current very limited arsenal of clinical tools is self-evident but there is only limited data serving as the current evidence base of the benefits of convalescent therapy, as it is called.

Major questions need to be answered regarding its safety, efficacy and feasibility in countries with shattered health systems and acute shortage of medical staff, WHO said.

Aimed at those caring for Ebola patients in Africa, WHO also put on top of its Twitter feed today a message reading: “Ebola very infectious even after death. Pay respect from at least 1 metre away, without touching.”

On the ground, the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) is continuing its deployment in Accra, Ghana, as well as in the three most impacted countries. The Head of UNMEER, Anthony Banbury, is scheduled to begin work in Ghana early next week.

The United Nations, meanwhile, has launched a website onn the UN system’s global response to the outbreak.

In Washington, D.C., Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva stressed the need for controls on animal health to help curb the spread of Ebola and other infectious diseases dangerous to humans, during discussions hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The FAO chief joined leaders of WHO and representatives from more than 40 countries at the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) event held at the White House in Washington, D.C.

In its latest update, WHO reported 6,553 cases and 3,083 deaths from Ebola as of 23 September 2014 based on information provided by the Ministries of Health of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The health agency noted that 375 health care workers are known to have developed Ebola (67 in Guinea, 184 in Liberia, 11 in Nigeria, and 113 in Sierra Leone), and 211 of them have died as a result (35 in Guinea, 89 in Liberia, five in Nigeria, and 82 in Sierra Leone).

Two countries, Nigeria and Senegal, have now reported a case or cases imported from a country with widespread and intense transmission. In Nigeria, there have been 20 cases and eight deaths. In Senegal, there has been one case, but as yet there have been no.

As at 24 September 2014, WHO said, there have been 70 cases reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including eight among health-care workers. Forty two deaths have been reported.

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