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WHO holds two-day emergency meeting on Ebola

WHO says the number of people with Ebola is set to hit 10,000 in West Africa.

FILE: A Sierra Leone Red Cross burial team at Jobo Farm in Waterloo outside Freetown disinfects after recovering the bodies of those believed to have died of Ebola. Picture: EPA.

JOHANNESBURG - The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the number of people with Ebola is set to hit 10,000 in West Africa.

The UN's public health arm puts the death toll at 4,877 people.

The International Red Cross says it has to retrieve 120 bodies in Sierra Leone. Researchers around the world are scrambling to beat the tropical fever for which there is currently no licensed treatment or vaccine.

The WHO is holding two days of Ebola emergency talks in Geneva. The organisation, now largely responsible for coordinating the development of a treatment and vaccine for Ebola, said on Tuesday that a serum based on antibodies in survivors' blood might be ready as early as December.

"The partnership that is moving the quickest will be in Liberia where we hope that in the coming weeks there will be facilities set up to collect the blood, treat the blood and be able to process it for use," WHO assistant director general Marie Paule Kieny told a news conference in Geneva.

The vaccine was developed at the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory and licensed to NewLink Genetics Corp through its wholly owned subsidiary BioProtection Systems, both based in Ames, Iowa, the NIH said.

Testing on a first potential vaccine began last month, and initial results were expected by year's end.

NBC freelance cameraman Ashoka Mukpo, an American who contracted Ebola while working in West Africa, is free of the virus and was discharged on Wednesday from a special unit at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, the hospital said.

"I feel profoundly blessed to be alive, and in the same breath aware of the global inequalities that allowed me to be flown to an American hospital when so many Liberians die alone with minimal care," Mukpo said in a statement.

At the same time, Ebola survivors in Liberia are quickly becoming an important part of the fight against the deadly virus that has killed more than 4,500 people in West Africa since being detected in the region in March.

Once rejected by their communities, survivors are now being seen as part of the solution as scientists try to find a way to use the antibodies in their blood to help treat victims.

Sheldon Yett, Country Director for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Liberia, said survivors were still stigmatised, but people were starting to see them as a real sign of hope and help.

In the capital Monrovia, Ebola survivors are helping in Liberia's first state-run interim care centre for Ebola orphans. There are some 3,700 Ebola orphans in the region today, according to UNICEF.

"Ebola plays on the most basic of human emotions; children just want a hug, but fear has meant that even loved ones have kept them at arms' length. Ebola survivors can provide that support, knowing that they have a natural immunity to the virus," Yett told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Monrovia.

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