Deaths from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, including recent fatalities in the United States and Spain, have exceeded 4,000 for the first time, the World Health Organization announced on Friday. The announcement came one day after World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim issued a dire warning that if the epidemic is not contained soon, “nothing less than the future of not only West Africa, but perhaps even Africa is at stake.”
On Wednesday, the World Bank published a report that found that the shuttering of stores, vanishing infrastructure investments and other economic ramifications of the Ebola epidemic is having a profound impact in the hard-hit countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. “We’re still way, way behind the curve, and we have to quickly speed up. We have to scale up the global response,” Kim said.
The Bank found that if the outbreak is not contained in the near future, as much as $32.6 billion could be lost by the end of 2015. This is more than 2.5 times larger than the combined GDPs of the three hardest-hit West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“People are going hungry and are unable to work,” Kim said at a World Bank-led meeting on Thursday of U.N. officials and West African leaders. “At least six million children are unable to go to school and thousands have been orphaned. Many businesses have been shut down — have shut down their operation. Farmers are unable to harvest crops, airline flights are being canceled, trade has diminished.”
The report found that, depending on how quickly the outbreak is contained and if it rages on and spills over into many other African nations, the economic impacts on the three most affected countries — but particularly Liberia and Sierra Leone — “could become catastrophic.”
He said the WHO has estimated that Liberia alone needs an immediate addition of at least 360 medical staff to treat infected patients.
U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon said at the Thursday meeting that the world needs to increase its Ebola response efforts by 20 times in order to catch up to the speed of the outbreak, or else the disease may not be brought under control. “Cases are growing exponentially,” he said. “Things will get worse before they get better, how much worse depends on us, the international community.”
Pesident Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone said the outbreak has reversed the course of the country’s economy, taking it from a rapidly growing nation to one that is quickly descending into economic turmoil. The World Bank study, for example, found that the short-term fiscal impacts in Sierra Leone are on the order of 2.1% of the country’s GDP.
“Ebola is now causing great disruptions to agricultural, mining, manufacturing, construction, tourism and transportation, and posing a significant threat to human development, state security, and poverty reduction,” Koroma said.
Koroma, too, said the international response has lagged behind the speed at which the disease is burning through the population.
Specifically, he said Sierra Leone is in urgent need of at least 1,500 more beds at specially-built Ebola treatment centers, and 5,250 health care workers to take care of highly infectious Ebola patients.
In addition, he said the country needs 200 sport utility vehicles and 1,000 motorbikes for workers to use to conduct contact tracing, a core component of epidemiology that involves tracking down all the people that a patient may have come into direct contact with, and therefore are at risk of developing and spreading an illness.
Death toll eclipses 4,000 for the first time
The WHO data released Friday, which includes the death of Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas, Texas, on Wednesday, found that there have been about 8,400 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola virus disease through Oct. 8. Of these cases, 416 have been health care workers who have treated Ebola patients, leaving already short-staffed Ebola wards scrambling for more resources. A total of 233 health care workers have died as a result of Ebola virus disease.
Liberia has seen the most Ebola deaths (2,316), and the country’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, appealed for more assistance from the international community at the World Bank meeting.
One-third of Liberia’s Ebola cases have been diagnosed over the past three weeks, a number that is likely to be an underestimate, according to the WHO. The agency said that conditions continue to deteriorate in the capital of Monrovia, and that doctors and other health workers are having trouble finding cases because people are getting sick and dying at home, where they are infecting more family members.
Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia, told the World Bank meeting that this outbreak reminds him of the AIDS epidemic.
“This is a fluid and heterogeneous epidemic,” he said. “It is changing quickly and it’s going to be a long fight. I will say that, in the 30 years I’ve been working in public health, the only thing like this has been AIDS, and we have to work now so this is not the world’s next AIDS.“
The World Bank has raised a $400 million financing package for the countries hit hardest by the outbreak, including about $60 million for Liberia, and the International Monetary Fund has committed $130 million to the three countries as well. However, based on the assessments and grim reports from the field, much more aid will likely be needed.
Inside the Redemption Hospital which has become a transfer and holding center to intake Ebola patients located in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Monrovia that locals call “New Kru Town” on Sept. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.Image: Michel du Cille/The Washington Post/Getty Images
A Liberian health worker disinfects a corpse after the man died in a classroom now used as Ebola isolation ward on August 15, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.Image: John Moore/Getty Images
Suspected Ebola patients are seen at Kenema governmental hospital on August 23, 2014 in Kenema, Sierra Leone.Image: Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Independent humanitarian medical group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) personnel carry a man suspected of having the deadly Ebola Virus inside MSF’s Ebola isolation and treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia, on Sept. 29, 2014.
An empty ward after patients left while others are scared to be admitted as they fear contracting the Ebola virus at the Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone on August 10, 2014.Image: Michael Duff/Associated Press
A Liberian health worker speaks with families in a classroom now used as Ebola isolation ward on August 15, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.Image: John Moore/Getty Images
A medical worker wearing a protective suit works near Ebola patients in the high-risk area of the Elwa hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) on Sept. 7, 2014 in Monrovia.Image: DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images
A woman reads the list of people who died of the Ebola virus at Island Hospital in Monrovia on Sept. 30, 2014.Image: PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images
A health worker stands near a man suspected of suffering from the Ebola virus as he lies on the ground naked after he was admitted to Island Hospital in Monrovia on Oct. 2, 2014.Image: PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images
A health worker wearing protective clothing and equipment, await patients to screen against the deadly Ebola virus at the Kenema Government Hospital situated in the capital city of Freetown, Sierra Leone on August 9, 2014.Image: Michael Duff/Associated Press
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