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Death rate from Ebola rises to 70%

Agencies via Shanghai Daily, October 15, 2014 Adjust font size:

West Africa could see up to 10,000 new Ebola cases a week within two months, the World Health Organization said yesterday, while confirming that the death rate in the current outbreak has risen to 70 percent.

WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Bruce Aylward gave the figures during a news conference in Geneva. Previously, the WHO had estimated the Ebola mortality rate was about 50 percent.

Aylward said the new rate confirmed it was "a high mortality disease" and that the United Nations health agency was focused on trying to get sick people isolated and provide treatment as early as possible.

If the world's response to the crisis isn't stepped up within 60 days, "a lot more people will die," he said, adding that health workers will be stretched even further dealing with the spiraling numbers of cases.

Health care workers have also been hit hard by the virus. International aid organization Doctors Without Borders said that 16 of its staff members have been infected with Ebola and nine of them have died.

Speaking at a news conference in Johannesburg yesterday, the head of Doctors Without Borders in South Africa, Sharon Ekambaram, said medical workers have received inadequate assistance from the international community.

"Where is WHO Africa? Where is the African Union?" said Ekambaram, who worked in Sierra Leone from August to September. "We've all heard their promises in the media, but have seen very little on the ground."

For the past month, there's been about 1,000 new Ebola cases per week -- including suspected, confirmed and probable cases, he said, adding that the WHO is aiming to get 70 percent of cases isolated by December to reverse the outbreak.

The WHO yesterday increased its Ebola death toll tally to 4,447 people, nearly all of them in West Africa, from 8,914 cases.

Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have been the hardest hit by the epidemic.

Aylward said the WHO is very concerned about the continued spread of Ebola in the three countries' capital cities -- Freetown, Conakry and Monrovia -- where people move freely across borders.

While some regions have seen the number of Ebola cases stabilize or fall, Aylward said "that doesn't mean they will get down to zero."

He said that the WHO was still focused on trying to treat Ebola patients, despite the huge demands on the broken health systems in West Africa.

"It would be horrifically unethical to say we're just going to isolate people," he said, noting that new strategies like handing out protective equipment to families and setting up very basic clinics -- without much treatment -- was a priority.

Aylward said there is no evidence that countries are hiding Ebola cases but said nations bordering the affected area, including Ivory Coast, Mali and Guinea-Bissau, are at high risk of importing the disease.

"This is not a virus that's easy to suppress or hide," he said, noting there hasn't been a huge amount of international spreading so far.

"I don't expect this virus to just go anywhere. There is exit screening in place and sick people won't be moving."

In Berlin, a UN medical worker infected with Ebola in Liberia died despite "intensive medical procedures." The St Georg hospital in Leipzig said yesterday that the 56-year-old man, whose name has not been released, died overnight of the infection.

The man tested positive for Ebola on Oct. 6, prompting Liberia's UN peacekeeping mission to place 41 other staff members under "close medical observation."

He arrived in Leipzig for treatment on Thursday. The hospital said at the time there was no risk of infection to other people, as he was kept in isolation.

He was the third Ebola patient to be treated in Germany. The first recovered and returned home to Senegal, while a Uganda aid worker is still being treated in Frankfurt.

In Spain, the Ebola monitoring committee said the nurse infected with the virus had experienced a slight improvement but is still in serious condition. Teresa Romero Ramos, was admitted to hospital on October 6 after contracting Ebola while treating a Spanish missionary who fell victim to it in West Africa and died last month.

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