The outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa has caused 729 deaths so far, including more than 60 healthcare workers, and 1,323 cases overall in five countries. These numbers have escalated quickly from the below recorded cases (see map) via the World Health Organization as of July 1. Recent reports confirm a new death caused by Ebola in Lagos, Nigeria, one of the most densely populated cities in Africa.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) issued warnings as far back as March 1 that the Ebola outbreaks in Guinea were reaching epidemic proportions but at the time the World Health Organization (WHO) refuted MSF claims that they were dealing with a serious outbreak. As of March, MSF had recorded 122 Ebola infections in Guinea, 80 of those resulted in death including 11 healthcare workers. WHO had refrained from calling the Ebola cases in Guinea “epidemic” because they seemingly did not want to cause alarm. WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said at a March news conference in Geneva:
“We must be careful with how words are used… for now what we see are sporadic cases, we cannot call it an epidemic.”
Meanwhile, the general director of MSF Switzerland, Bruno Jochum disagreed with the WHO’s statements and reiterated his organization’s concern of the Ebola outbreak in March citing what MSF had observed early on in Guinea was different from past outbreaks.
“The situation deserves our full attention and should be taken very seriously by the number of cases in different parts of the country in such a short period of time.”
WHO has now reversed its opinion and is now reporting the outbreak is out of control. At a recent meeting, Margaret Chan of the World Health Organization announced a $100 million plan to combat the epidemic and was quoted as saying:
“This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it. If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries.”
Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency on Thursday and President Ernest Bai Koroma said police and military will implement house to house searches to trace and quarantine those infected as well as restrict movement in affected regions.
We are not sure what actions WHO may have put in place back in March 2014 when Doctors Without Borders first sounded the alarms regarding Ebola outbreaks in Guinea however it seems logical to conclude in hindsight if WHO had heeded the alerts from MSF and acted sooner, we might not be facing an “out of control epidemic” now.