Global health experts Friday declared the Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa an international health emergency that requires a coordinated global approach.
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are battling the Ebola virus, which has killed 932 people in those countries. The epidemic has also spread to Nigeria.
“The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus, the intensive community and health facility transmission patterns, and the weak health systems in the currently affected and most at-risk countries,” the World health Organization said Friday, after two days of emergency meetings.
The United Nations health agency described it as the worst outbreak in the four-decade history of tracking the disease.
“A coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola,” WHO said.
A WHO official said bogus information is adding to the rapid spread of the disease.
“Perhaps one of the most important factors contributing to this is fear and misinformation,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the assistant director for health security.
“This is critical to understand, because what it is doing is that it helps foster suspicion and anxiety in communities, and when that happens we see a situation where people are reluctant to go to health facilities or maybe reluctant to bring their family members there. And it underscores the importance of communities being aware and understanding but we also see that fear impacts other countries.”
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said the fast-spreading disease has overwhelmed her nation’s health care system.
“The scope and scale of the epidemic … now exceed the capacity and statutory responsibility of any one government agency or ministry,” she said.
She declared a 90-day state of emergency this week, which will allow her government to set up a series of measures to prevent the spread of the disease.
As the nation struggles to contain the epidemic, the United States ordered relatives of its embassy employees to leave Liberia. The U.S. Embassy is in the capital of Monrovia — one of the areas hardest-hit by the epidemic.
Washington said it’s sending experts to Liberia, including 12 specialists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a 13-member disaster assistance response team from the United States Agency for International Development.
The United States is no stranger to the deadly virus.
Two Americans who were in Liberia are undergoing treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta: doctor Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. Emory is one of four U.S. institutions capable of providing such treatment.
The Ebola virus causes hemorrhagic fever that affects multiple organ systems in the body.
Early symptoms include weakness, muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat. They later progress to vomiting, diarrhea, impaired kidney and liver function — and sometimes internal and external bleeding.
Ebola spreads through contact with organs and bodily fluids such as blood, saliva, urine and other secretions of infected people. It has no known cure. The most common treatment requires supporting organ functions and maintaining bodily fluids such as blood and water long enough for the body to fight off the infection.