CDC: Window Closing to Stop Ebola from Becoming a Global Threat

Davy James, Associate Editor

Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions that outbreak in West Africa is outpacing the response.

Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions that outbreak in West Africa is outpacing the response.

A dire warning was issued on Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that time is running short to stop the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa from becoming a global threat.

The current epidemic, which has caused the deaths of more than 1500 people with more than 3000 confirmed and suspected cases, could infect more than 20,000 people before the outbreak is brought under control, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). After conducting visits last week to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said the situation calls for speed, flexibility, and urgent global front line assistance.

“What I saw was a continuing need to strengthen the health care system by increasing the number of treatment centers, providers, access to supplies, as well as a need to improve clinical management by hand washing, infection control, and other methods,” Dr. Frieden said in a press release. “I went to a new ward that opened with 35 beds and in less than a week they had 63 patients, many lying on the floor.”

Issues in stopping the spread of the virus are not isolated to the general population, however, as health care workers also find themselves at an increased risk. Among those infected are more than 240 health care workers who contracted the disease in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. More than 120 of those health care workers have died from the disease, according to the WHO.

The organization attributed the high numbers of infected health care workers to a number of factors, including the improper use and/or shortage of personal protective equipment, a limited number of medical staff trying to handle a large patient population, and compassion-driven work in isolation wards far beyond the number of safe recommended hours.

“I am particularly impressed with the dedication and heroism of the people of West Africa who care for the sick, spread the word about how to prevent Ebola, clean contaminated areas, bury the dead, and welcome survivors back into their homes and communities,” Dr. Frieden said.

Since July, the CDC has employed the use of 500 staff members to provide logistics, staffing, communication, analytics, management, and support functions, the organization said. Additionally, approximately 100 US government personnel were sent to the afflicted region to assist in functions such as surveillance, contact tracing, database management, and health education, according to the CDC.

“There is a need for data to better trace where Ebola is beginning to spread,” Dr. Frieden said. “And there is a basic need for infrastructure like trucks, jeeps, and motorcycles. Perhaps most importantly, there is need for a functional emergency operations center at either the national or the district levels directing an efficient response.”

Beyond the added manpower, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided more than $21 million since March 2014 for equipment and supplies, food, training, and enhanced local health emergency response systems. In a collaborative funding effort with UNICEF, the USAID sent more than 40 tons of chlorine and 400,000 pairs of medical gloves, along with more than 16 tons of medical supplies and emergency equipment to the affected region.

While efforts have been stepped up to limit the virus from spreading further, the CDC cautions that time is running out and a global response is necessary.

“The window of opportunity to stop Ebola from spreading widely throughout Africa and becoming a global threat for years to come is closing, but it is not yet closed,” Dr. Frieden added. “If the world takes the immediate steps, which are direct requests from the front lines of the outbreak and the presidents of each country, we can still turn this around.”