It will cost at least $600 million and take thousands of more people on the ground to even begin to slow the worsening Ebola epidemic in West Africa, World Health Organization officials say — even as they report worse spread than feared in Nigeria.
They say the soonest the epidemic can be controlled is nine months, and say despite the dangers, they need volunteers like Dr. Rick Sacra, the latest American infected with Ebola, to step up and help out.
WHO predicts at least 20,000 people will become infected with Ebola over the coming nine months in the current outbreak, and half of them will die. It’s the first Ebola epidemic — all the other outbreaks have been stopped within weeks, with no more than a few hundred cases. The latest count: 3,685 people sick, and 1,841 of them have died.
“We cannot afford to lose even a day,” Dr. David Nabarro, global Ebola coordinator for the United Nations, told reporters. “This is going to be an expensive struggle. It is going, certainly, to cost at least $600 million and it may cost even more.”
Even as they spoke, officials in Nigeria reported three cases of Ebola in the country’s oil center Port Harcourt — all traced to a single Liberian-American patient who fled to Lagos after he got sick. Senegal reported the case of a student last week who slipped away from officials trying to monitor him in Guinea and who showed up for treatment at a border-area hospital, forcing officials to watch family and friends he’d been in contact with.
Ebola has an incubation period of up to 21 days, which means it takes a great deal of time and effort to watch for its spread.
“It has become a global threat and we require urgent action,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.
There are pressing needs for supplies such as protective equipment and medicines, hospital beds and most of all, people.
The U.S. Agency for International development said Thursday it would give $75 million, in part to pay for 1,000 more beds in Ebola treatment centers in Liberia and to buy 130,000 more protective suits for health care workers. That's on top of $20 million USAID has given. The agency will ask Congress for a special appropriation.
WHO’s Dr. Keiji Fukuda said experts estimate it can take as many as 200 to 250 people to take care of 80 Ebola patients. Doctors, nurses and anyone tending to the personal needs of a sick Ebola patient must wear full protective gear. It’s hot and uncomfortable, and groups such as Medecins Sans Frontieres restrict their staffers to 40-minute shifts.
“We anticipate that there is going to be the need for several thousand people in the different countries,” Fukuda said.
Health care workers are in the direct line of danger from Ebola. “The people that are at high risk of getting the diseases are the people who are working to take care of patients. They are in direct contact with the body fluids of the infected person,” Chan said. More than 200 medical professionals have been infected in this outbreak.
One of the latest casualties is Sacra, a longtime worker for the North Carolina-based SIM USA missionary aid group. He’s getting treatment in Liberia, where he was treating pregnant women, not Ebola patients, the group said. Sacra was a friend and colleague of both Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly, the first two Americans to have recovered from Ebola infections.
And even though SIM has now counted two Ebola victims — Writebol works for SIM, also, while Brantly works for another group called Samaritan’s Purse — both groups are calling for more volunteers.
“This is not the time to just sit on the sidelines and watch this wildfire happening."
“This is not the time to just sit on the sidelines and watch this wildfire happening,” said SIM USA president Bruce Johnson.
The international medical group Medecins Sans Frontieres — MSF or Doctors Without Borders — has been advertising for more staff, also.
“The single most important (need) is that we don’t have enough people on the ground…these include health worker, nurses and doctors… people transporting people,” Fukuda said. Nabarro even suggested they should get hazard pay — and international donations will be needed to fund that.
“A scale-up is needed on the order of three to four times what is currently in place,” Chan said.