Organization warns disease is spreading faster than it can be contained.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on nations worldwide to send any available resources to aid in the fight against the escalating Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
The current outbreak is outpacing the ability of health care workers to respond to the growing deluge of new patients, according to the WHO. The organization needs not only more medical personnel, but also basic supplies to care for patients who are increasingly being turned away from overcrowded treatment centers.
“One of our greatest challenges is that we urgently need hundreds of additional hospital beds for treatment of patients with Ebola,” said Peter Graaff, MD, a WHO representative in Liberia, in a press release. “At present, dozens of people are being turned away from treatment centers every day because they are full or overfull.”
The current outbreak has caused more than 2000 fatalities with nearly 5000 confirmed and suspected cases in West Africa. With a number of cases believed to be unreported thus far, the hardest-hit regions are expected to see a surge of thousands of new cases over the next 3 weeks, according to the WHO.
US President Barack Obama said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that the country will step up relief efforts for the region, including military equipment and support for international health care workers.
The WHO announced on Friday that Cuba will send 165 health care professionals to concentrate on Sierra Leone. These volunteers include physicians, nurses, epidemiologists, infection control specialists, intensive care specialists, and social mobilization officers who have all previously worked in Africa. The group will deploy the first week of October and is expected to stay for 6 months.
"If we are going to go to war with Ebola, we need the resources to fight," said Margaret Chan, MD, Director-General of the WHO, in a press release. “I am extremely grateful for the generosity of the Cuban government and these health professionals for doing their part to help us contain the worst Ebola outbreak ever known. This will make a significant difference in Sierra Leone.”
Health care workers are in short supply in the most affected regions, as they face a high attrition rate in fighting the virus due to the great risk they undertake in treating the infected. In excess of 240 health care workers have contracted the disease in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, with more than 120 fatalities, according to the WHO. In Liberia alone, an estimated 152 health care workers have been infected, with 79 fatalities.
In Liberia and Sierra Leone, there are 0.2 and 0.1 doctors per 10,000 people, respectively. At the outset of the epidemic, Liberia had only 1 doctor to treat nearly 100,000 people in a total population of 4.4 million, according to the WHO.
As a result, the organization has announced plans to train hundreds of health workers to work in Ebola treatment centers.
"We still need about 500 to 600 doctors coming from abroad and at least 1000 or more health care workers,” Dr. Chan said in a Reuters report.