CDC chief calls for global action to check spread of Ebola

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has called for immediate steps across nations to accelerate response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, after infections spread across Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, with an estimated 2,615 people affected, and half of them dead.

The current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa first appeared in Guinea in March, and is the largest outbreak ever recorded, both in terms of geographic spread and number of people infected, said CDC director Dr Tom Frieden, after his visits last week to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Dr Frieden described the situation as daunting and called for speed, flexibility and work on the front lines to take precedence. Perhaps the current outbreak hasn't yet spread beyond West Africa, and it is not a disease that affects the rich developed world. It is not in the interest of big pharmaceutical companies to invest a lot of money in research on Ebola.

He said the United States has stepped up assistance to affected countries, although the global response to the outbreak is still lukewarm.

Multiple US agencies have been involved in the response to the crisis, including the state department, the department of health and human services (HHS), US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Defence (DOD).

''Since the CDC ramped up its Ebola response in early July, more than 500 CDC staff members have provided logistics, staffing, communication, analytics, management, and other support functions,'' CDC said, adding, ''As of 2 September, roughly 100 US government personnel have been deployed and are working in the affected countries responding to the outbreak, this includes more than 70 CDC staff deployed in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone assisting with various vital response efforts such as surveillance, contact tracing, database management, and health education.''

''The bottom line is that despite tremendous efforts from the US government, CDC, from within countries, the number of cases continues to increase and is now increasing rapidly,'' Freiden told a press conference at the CDC on Tuesday.

The virus is moving faster than anticipated and that's why we need to move now, he said.

During his trip, Freiden visited the three countries hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic - Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. In Liberia, Frieden donned the familiar yellow suits, face masks and goggles healthcare workers in Africa wear and visited a ward where Ebola patients are being treated.

''There is a window of opportunity to tamp this down'', Frieden said, ''but that window is  closing…we need action now to scale up the response.''

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the ''magnitude of the Ebola outbreak has been vastly underestimated.'' According to the latest WHO figures, 3,069 people have come down with Ebola. Of them, 1,552 have died - a fatality rate greater than 50 per cent.

Dr Frieden told Fox News that unless urgent action is taken to contain the epidemic, it may be impossible to stop it. There are not enough hospitals, wards, clinics, doctors or nurses to take care of the numbers of people who are coming down with Ebola, he said.

Frieden called for a global effort to open more wards and clinics and train healthcare workers to arrest the spread of ebola to other countries.

''The West African nation of Senegalon Monday declared a first-priority health emergency after a 21-year-old student who traveled to Senegal from Guinea showed symptoms of Ebola. His brother had died from the disease days earlier. The Democratic Republic of Congo is investigating 24 cases of ebola haemmorhagic fever, though those cases are believed to be caused by a different strain than the virus that is devastating West Africa.''

Frieden says every nation of the world should be worried. 

''It's not just in the interest of these countries to get it under control. For every day that this continues to spread in West Africa, the likelihood of someone getting infected and becoming sick elsewhere increases,'' he told reporters.

The CDC is dispatching a team to Senegal in an attempt to prevent any further spread of the disease there.

But Frieden issued an ominous prediction for what might happen if the world doesn't come together to fight the disease. Rather than the sporadic outbreaks of Ebola that have come and gone since the virus was first described in Congo in 1976, Ebola may become endemic - that is, there will always be a certain level of infection in some African nations, marked by more frequent outbreaks than in the past.

It's certainly possible to feel hopeless,'' Frieden said today.  ''But it's not hopeless. We do know how to stop Ebola. The window of opportunity is not yet closed. We can turn this around.''

Frieden also warned that the virus may threaten the economies of African nations struggling to dig themselves out of third-world poverty. The more it spreads on the continent, the greater the risk becomes that a traveler will touch down in an American city- infected with Ebola.