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Healer's claims set off Ebola outbreak in West Africa

26 August 2014

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has claimed a terrible toll of lives, sweeping across several countries in the region, but the crisis began with just one healer's claims to special powers.

According to health officials who spoke to AFP, the spread of the outbreak from Guinea could have been averted, were it not for a woman herbalist in the remote eastern border village of Sokoma.

Mohamed Vandi, the top medical official in the hard-hit district of Kenema said the woman herbalist claimed to possess powers to heal Ebola.

Cases from Guinea were crossing into Sierra Leone for treatment he added.

He said the woman got infected and died, and during her funeral women around the other towns got infected.

Ebola has killed over 1,220 people since it hit southern Guinea at the start of the year, spreading first to Liberia and to Sierra Leone since May.

The tropical pathogen could turn people into virtual corpses leaving them with little higher brain function and negligible motor control days before they died.

The virus infects through exposure to bodily fluids, and is said to have spread rapidly in West Africa as relatives touched victims during traditional funeral rites.

Meanwhile according to the World Health Organization, over $430 million would be needed to bring the worst Ebola outbreak on record under control, Bloomberg reports.

To counter the outbreak the WHO aims to contain the trend  within two months, and stop all transmission in six to nine months. It would require funding by governments, development banks, the private sector and in-kind contributions, Bloomberg News which had access to the document, reported.

The current outbreak, which has hit Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, might soon exceed all previous Ebola outbreaks combined with the sum now required six times more than the $71 million the WHO suggested was needed in a plan published less than a month ago.

According to Barry Bloom, a public health professor at Harvard University, there was reason to be concerned about whether the proposed resources would be adequate and whether the funds would be made available fast enough, or whether the organisation's latest plan ''would ensure the expertise from WHO that is needed.''

The WHO would publish the plan by the end of this week at the earliest and details might change, according to Fadela Chaib, a spokeswoman for the Geneva-based agency.

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