Ebola plague now a global emergency, say health leaders
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared West Africa's Ebola outbreak an international health emergency, and called for global "solidarity" in the fight to stop the spread of the virus which has now claimed close to a thousand lives.
Last night Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, became the latest to declare a state of emergency over Ebola, after four new cases emerged in just two days. President Goodluck Jonathan announced an emergency fund to combat the virus, which has infected 13 people in Nigeria since the first case at the end of July, killing two.
States of emergency have already been declared in Sierra Leone and Liberia, where the number of Ebola cases continues to rise. Margaret Chan, director general of WHO, inset, said that there was still potential for further international spread, and warned that the countries affected did not have the capacity to manage the outbreak alone.
It is only the third time that WHO has declared a public health emergency of international concern, a high level of threat previously applied to the H1N1 "swine flu" outbreak in 2008, and the ongoing polio outbreak in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
According to the latest WHO figures, released yesterday, 961 people had been killed in the current Ebola outbreak, which is by far the worst since the virus was first identified in the 1970s. British expert Dr Ben Neuman, a virologist at the University of Reading, said that it was unlikely the virus could be stopped completely until "after Christmas". However, he said the declaration of an international emergency was "a big forward step".
"This will make the vast resources of the United Nations such as funds, experts and equipment available to help stop Ebola," he said.
In the affected countries, there are still signs that public health messages aimed at preventing the spread of the virus are not getting through to many communities. (Daily Telegraph, London)