Geneva, 29 October 2014 – The spread of Ebola in Liberia may be slowing, as demonstrated in the decline in burials and sickbed occupancy rates, as well as a plateau in lab-reported new cases in the West African country hardest hit by the virus, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reported today, while cautioning against drawing premature conclusions.
“It appears the trend is real in Liberia,” Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO Assistant Director-General in charge of operational response, told a press conference from the agency’s Geneva headquarters. “There may be a slowing of Ebola there.”
But, Dr. Aylward urged caution in interpreting the recent data saying that conclusions should not be drawn that Ebola is under control in Liberia, underscoring that while officials are “seeing glimmers of hope”, they need to study what’s behind the trend.
He stressed that “a slight decline in cases on a day to day basis versus getting this thing closed out is a completely different ball game.”
“Am I hopeful?” Dr. Aylward said. “I am terrified that the information will be misinterpreted. It’s like saying your pet tiger is under control,” he told reporters. “This is a very, very dangerous disease.”
While he reported the freeing up of hospital beds, the plateauing of laboratory-confirmed cases and a decline in burials in Liberia, he noted that Ebola is “burning hot” in parts of Sierra Leone, another country at the frontlines of the outbreak, along with Guinea.
The WHO doctor said there was evidence that Ebola-affected countries can control the epidemic with safe burial, education, engagement, treatment work at a large scale, “but they need help.”
WHO, in its latest update on Ebola issued Wednesday, said 13,703 cases and 4,922 deaths had been reported as of 27 October in the six affected countries of Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Spain, and the United States, along with two previously affected countries, Nigeria and Senegal. A total of 521 health-care workers are known to have been infected with Ebola, 272 of whom have died, according to the update.
Fifteen countries that neighbour States with widespread and intense transmission, or that otherwise have strong trade and travel ties with hard-hit countries, will be prioritized for technical assistance on preparedness from specialist WHO teams and partners. WHO identified these countries as: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan, and Togo.
Meanwhile today, the Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), Tony Banbury, held a joint press conference in Accra, Ghana, with United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.