Global response to Ebola inadequate, says medical charity MSF

The international response to West Africa`s Ebola outbreak is "dangerously inadequate," the emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans Frontieres) said in Sierra Leone on Wednesday.

"The Ebola outbreak has been out of control for months, but the global health community has taken a long time to react," wrote nurse Anja Wolz in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"The current international Ebola response remains dangerously inadequate," she added.

Ebola is a highly contagious virus that causes vomiting, diarrhoea, and bleeding. It first emerged in 1976, and has seen its worst outbreak yet since the start of the year, with about half of those infected dying.

More than 1,400 people across Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria have been killed according to the World Health Organization`s latest tally.

Sierra Leone has already lost its top Ebola doctor to the disease, and a Senegalese epidemiologist working there was airlifted this week to Germany for treatment.

Healthcare workers are at particular risk of coming down with the infection, so they wear extensive personal protective equipment (PPE) to shield the skin from exposure.

Wolz described the outfit, which includes "two pairs of gloves, two masks, and a heavy apron on top of the full-body overalls," as "unbearable" for more than 40 minutes at a time due to the intense heat.

Key problems with the response include the inability to trace all people who may have come in contact with an infected person, she said.

An alert system that should be sending an investigation team and ambulance to any village where a suspected case or death is reported "is not functioning properly", she added.

"Every day sees deaths in the community that are surely caused by Ebola, but they are not counted by the ministry of health because the cause has not been confirmed by laboratory testing," she said, describing the surveillance system as "non-functional."

Health professionals say they need a solid understanding of the chain of transmission in order to stop the virus from spreading.

"My time in Kailahun has been frustrating and disappointing, because I know from previous outbreaks what is required to control this one," she said.

"We need to be one step ahead of this outbreak, but right now we are five steps behind."