Ebola relief group welcomes decrease in new cases

MSF says the decrease is an opportunity to fix response and treatment programmes.

FILE: An MSF medical worker wearing protective clothing at an Ebola treatment facility. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Doctors Without Borders says the decrease in the number of new cases of Ebola is an opportunity to focus efforts on fixing the serious weaknesses that remain in the response and treatment programmes.

The relief organisation says it's recorded a downward trend in new cases of the epidemic at its management centres in West Africa, with just over 50 patients in its eight centres currently.

Officials say stopping new infections completely will be difficult unless significant improvements are made in registering new cases and tracing those who have been in contact with people who've contracted the Ebola virus.

The organisation's Jens Pedersen says, "It's very important that we use the opportunity that the decrease in the number of cases allows us, to adjust the response to make sure that the lower number of Ebola cases actually and eventually leads to zero cases."

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

At the same time, the three West African countries worst hit by Ebola risk a "double disaster" unless a multi-million dollar plan is put in place to help their economies recover, Oxfam said on Tuesday.

In Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone people were struggling to make ends meet having seen their incomes plummet, the aid agency said.

"The world was late in waking up to the Ebola crisis, there can be no excuses for not helping to put these economies and lives back together," Oxfam's chief executive, Mark Goldring, said during a visit to Liberia.

He said a post-Ebola "Marshall Plan" should address three areas of urgent need: cash for families affected by the crisis, investment in jobs and support for basic services.

"People need cash in their hands now, they need good jobs to feed their families in the near future and decent health, education and other essential services," Goldring said.

Research by Oxfam in three Liberian counties found that three in four families had seen their incomes decline, with an average income drop of 39 percent.

Coupled with a loss of income, food prices in Ebola-affected areas have risen. In Liberia, rice prices were 40 percent above the seasonal average.

As a result, some adults said they were cutting back on food in order to feed their children. Oxfam said that 60 percent of people interviewed told them they had not had enough food in the past seven days.

Additional reporting by Reuters.