Experts: Ebola spreading fast, aid not enough

The US alone has pledged more than $1 billion to help curb the outbreak.

A member of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) putting on protective gear at the isolation ward. Picture: AFP.

WASHINGTON - The Ebola epidemic is spreading so fast that it is turning into a humanitarian crisis leaving children orphaned, families hungry and people dying of treatable conditions, top health experts said on Tuesday in calling for more international aid for West Africa.

The United States alone has pledged more than $1 billion in emergency hospital units, vaccine development, medical supplies and training for Liberia, while the World Bank has mobilized $400 million in financing. The United Kingdom is building treatment units in Sierra Leone and other countries are sending staff and supplies.

But health experts on the front line said this assistance is not enough and not arriving fast enough to halt the spread of the deadly hemorrhagic fever.

"The deployment is not sufficient in response to the crisis," said Sophie Delaunay, executive director of Doctors Without Borders, the non-profit group that has led the response to the outbreak.

"There is not the capacity and the means to isolate the infected. The irony is that we know what needs to be done, isolate the people, but we don't know how to do it quickly," she said in a media teleconference arranged by Kaiser Family Foundation.

Failure to scale up the response will cause the number of deaths to rise, said Steve Monroe, a deputy director of infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even as his agency announced the first confirmed case in the United States.

"The medical response has become a humanitarian crisis," he said.

CDC's projections released last week showed that infections could reach 1,4 million in a worst case scenario by late January, compared with about 6,000 today. So far it has primarily affected Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea plus several cases in Senegal and Nigeria, which CDC said appear to be under control.

But Ebola infections are doubling every 24 days in Liberia, the worst-hit country, said Joshua Michaud, assistant director of global health policy at Kaiser Family Foundation. If interventions are scaled up, the impact could be significant and the decline sharp, he said.


Delaunay said her group, widely known by its French name _Medecins sans Frontieres _(MSF), is concerned whether the Ebola treatment centers that the United States and Britain are building will have the highly trained staff needed to run the facilities, with a strong director in a disciplined, command-and-control environment necessary to prevent further infections.

Meanwhile, MSF is focusing on expanding a very basic level of care to try and isolate the sick in place. The disease features fever, vomiting and bleeding which make it highly contagious. The exact form of care varies - in the home or in a local building -- depending on the needs and resources of each community, she said.

"We are really experimenting with what is best, including distributing home hygiene kits," Delaunay said. Getting accurate information to people about how to prevent infections by using the kits, which are not designed for treatment, however, is a challenging task, she said.

The vaccines under development are welcome, but they cannot be deployed quickly enough to control the epidemic, she said.