Hunt is on for a vaccine as WHO’s new official death toll reached 4,877, with 9,936 people infected in the world’s worst-ever Ebola epidemic
Top experts on the Ebola virus raised grave concerns Thursday about the worsening epidemic in West Africa as the number of people with the disease neared 10,000.
The World Health Organisation said after an emergency meeting on the deadly haemorrhagic fever that the situation in the worst-hit countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone “remains of great concern”.
“It was the unanimous view of the committee that the event continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern,” it added.
The experts have been brainstorming new ways to halt the spread of the epidemic, the third such meeting since the outbreak of Ebola in Guinea earlier this year.
“The primary emphasis must continue to be stopping the transmission of Ebola within the three affected countries with intense transmission. This action is the most important step for preventing international spread,” the WHO said.
The hunt is on for a vaccine as the WHO’s new official death toll reached 4,877, with 9,936 people infected in the world’s worst-ever Ebola epidemic.
At a meeting Thursday, the European Union put up 24.4 million euros to find vaccines and treatments.
The funds will be fast-tracked “in order to start work as soon as possible,” the European Commission said.
“We’re in a race against time on Ebola and we must address both the emergency situation and at the same time have a long term response,” Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso said.
WHO spokesperson Fadela Chaib said earlier this week that “much has changed” since the experts last meet in September, with cases in Spain and the United States.
Since then, the infection rate in the worst-hit countries has nearly tripled, with some experts warning the rate of infections could reach 10,000 a week by early December.
The first doses of the experimental rVSV vaccine against Ebola arrived at the Geneva University Hospital from Canada as the meeting was going on, with the WHO saying its goal was to ship initial supplies to Africa by early 2015.
But on the ground, the situation remained deeply worrying, with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf admitting “the transmission just ran ahead of us” as she introduced new border controls to slow the spread.
Liberians carried the disease to Nigeria in July and the US in September. New checks at the country’s international airport will match passengers’ names against lists of relatives of Ebola patients.
But as the measures came into force, WHO warned that the extent of the disease in the impoverished country — already the worst-hit — had been underestimated, with under-reporting of infections, especially in the capital Monrovia.