Ebola: WHO to hold emergency meeting

The organisation on Thursday confirmed the death toll in West Africa had reached 729.

A picture taken on 24 July 2014 shows a staff member of the Christian charity Samaritan's Purse spraying product as he treats the premises outside the ELWA hospital in the Liberian capital Monrovia. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - The World Health Organisation (WHO) will convene an emergency meeting next week to decide if Ebola constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

The organisation on Thursday confirmed the death toll from the epidemic in West Africa had reached 729.

The WHO said the meeting would be held on 6 and 7 August to recommend measures to tackle the outbreak.

The organisation warned Ebola was spiralling out of control and could spread to other countries, causing "catastrophic loss" of life and severe economic disruption.

WHO chief Margaret Chan told the leaders of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia at a regional summit that the response to the epidemic had been "woefully inadequate".

She said the outbreak was "moving faster than efforts to control it".

Leaders are in Guinea's capital Conakry to organise the deployment of hundreds of extra medical personnel as part of a R1 billion emergency response to the epidemic.

The virus, which has no known cure, began in the forests of eastern Guinea in February.

Sierra Leone now has the highest number of reported cases.

The haemorrhagic virus can kill up to 90 percent of those infected, though the fatality rate in this epidemic is about 60 percent.

In the final stages, its symptoms include external bleeding, internal bleeding, vomiting and diarrhoea - at which point Ebola becomes highly contagious.

The jump in the number of cases and the death toll raised international concern and placed under-resourced health facilities in the region under strain.

At the same time, in South Africa, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) refuted claims of a case of viral haemorrhagic fever at Hillbrow hospital.

It said two cases of suspected Ebola were tested out of six requests.

None of these tested positive, NICD said.

The four cases which weren't tested involved people who simply thought they had contracted the virus after travelling to West Africa.

Reports earlier this week stated that a man from Central Africa had arrived at the hospital with symptoms of severe gastroenteritis.

A doctor from a Hillbrow Hospital, who chose to remain anonymous, said the man had shown symptoms of Ebola while travelling on a plane to South Africa.

He was allegedly coming to the country to seek medical assistance.

After he arrived at the facility, he was transferred to the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital where he died.

The doctor said it was confirmed the man died of haemorrhagic fever but the NICD's Lucille Blumberg denied this.

"He did not have viral haemorrhagic fever, he had an unrelated non-infectious illness."


The leader of Guinea's Ebola task force on Friday said moves by neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone to contain the disease may have the opposite effect.

Liberia has put in place measures, including closing all schools and some government departments, as well as possibly quarantining affected communities.

Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency and called in troops to isolate Ebola victims.

"Currently, some measures taken by our neighbours could make the fight against Ebola even harder,"Aboubacar Sidiki Diakité told Reuters.

"When children are not supervised, they can go anywhere and make the problem worse. It is part of what we will be talking about," he said.

The United States said it was providing material and technical support to the three countries and further assistance will be discussed at a summit meeting in Washington next week.

The head of the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention announced plans to send an extra 50 health experts to help efforts to control the epidemic.