The World Health Organisation (WHO) is establishing a global response coalition to the Ebola crisis as the spread of the disease worsens in West Africa.
At a press conference in Geneva, WHO and UN officials said an unprecedented surge in the response to the crisis was needed, with the disease now having killed more than 2,470 people out of 4,940 cases in West Africa.
“Quite frankly, ladies and gentlemen, this health crisis we face is unparalleled in modern times,” WHO assistant director-general Dr Bruce Aylward told reporters.
“The gravity of the situation is difficult to get across with just a few numbers.”
He said the number of infected and dead had doubled in the past fortnight.
“You start to get a sense of the rapid escalation we’re now seeing of the virus, as it moves from what was a linear increase in cases to now almost an exponential increase in cases.”
The UN estimates 20,000 people could be infected by the end of the year.
“We don’t know where the numbers are going,” Dr Aylward said, pointing out that two weeks ago when WHO said it needed the capacity to manage 20,000 cases, “that seemed like a lot.”
“That does not seem like a lot today,” Dr Aylward said.
Major humanitarian crisis on the cards: UN
Nearly $1 billion is needed to fight the outbreak, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said, more than doubling the organisation’s estimate of less than a month ago.
She warned that “if not dealt with effectively now, Ebola could become a major humanitarian crisis in countries currently affected”.
It comes ahead of a United States announcement on Tuesday that it will send 3,000 troops to help tackle the Ebola outbreak as part of a ramped-up response including a major deployment in Liberia, the country where the epidemic is spiralling fastest out of control.
The US response to the crisis, to be formally unveiled later by president Barack Obama, includes plans to build 17 treatment centres, train thousands of healthcare workers and establish a military control centre for coordination, US officials told reporters.
The plan will “ensure that the entire international response effort is more effective and helps to scale up to turn the tide in this crisis,” a senior administration official said ahead of the president’s announcement.
The 17 treatment centres will have 100 beds each and be built as soon as possible, an official said.
A site will also be established where military medical personnel will teach some 500 healthcare workers per week for six months or more on how to care for Ebola patients.