Ebola outbreak: Global health authority warns spread of disease is now 'an international crisis'

As the deadly virus continues its unprecedented spread through West Africa, the global health authority has issued a stark warning

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared West Africa’s Ebola outbreak an international health emergency, and called for global “solidarity” in the fight to stop the spread of the virus which has now claimed close to a thousand lives.

States of emergency have already been declared in Sierra Leone and Liberia, where the number of Ebola cases continues to rise. Margaret Chan, director general of WHO, said that there was still potential for further international spread, and warned that the countries affected did not have the capacity to manage the outbreak alone.

It is only the third time that WHO has declared a public health emergency of international concern, a high level of threat previously applied to the H1N1 “swine flu” outbreak in 2008, and the ongoing polio outbreak in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

According to the latest WHO figures, released yesterday, 961 people had been killed in the current Ebola outbreak, which is by far the worst since the virus was first identified in the 1970s. In a small sign that progress might be being made, WHO said that on 5 and 6 August there had been no new cases of Ebola in Guinea, where the outbreak began in February.

However, there were 68 new cases across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, the latest country to see transmission of the virus, and many experts remain deeply pessimistic about the prospects for an early end to the outbreak.

British expert Dr Ben Neuman, a virologist at the University of Reading, said that it was unlikely the virus could be stopped completely until “after Christmas”. However, he said the declaration of an international emergency was “a big forward step” in the fight against the disease. “This will make the vast resources of the United Nations such as funds, experts and equipment available to help stop Ebola,” he said.

In the affected countries, there are still signs that public health messages aimed at preventing the spread of the virus are not getting through to many communities, and suspicion of health workers and of isolation centres where Ebola patients are treated remains high.

The new ritual of handwashing in Monrovia The new ritual of handwashing in Monrovia (EPA)

WHO will decide next week whether to use experimental medicines in the fight against Ebola. The plan comes after an experimental treatment used on two American aid workers infected by Ebola reportedly helped improve their condition. There has been anger among many in the affected countries that the serum, known as ZMapp, will not be available in African countries, but the US Centers for Disease Control says there is hardly any stock and that its efficacy is still in doubt. Even if it were deployed, it would be three to four months before even modest amounts could be manufactured, experts said.

A Spanish priest who became the first person infected with Ebola to be treated in Europe, after being flown into Spain earlier this week, was said to be in a stable condition yesterday.

There has been criticism of the international response to the crisis, which has only gained momentum in recent days. Dr Bart Janssens, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders, which has 66 international and 610 national staff working in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, said that it had been warning for weeks that “a massive medical, epidemiological and public health response is desperately needed”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Brendan Rodgers is confident that Sterling will put pen to paper on a new deal at Anfield
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up
A Greek island - yours for the price of a London flat

A sun-kissed island - yours for the price of a London flat

Cash-strapped Greeks are selling off their slices of paradise
Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

New system means that evergreen songs could top the festive charts
Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence

Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys

He is a musician of wondrous oddity. He is on a perpetual quest to seek the lost tribes of the Welsh diaspora. Just don't ask Gruff Rhys if he's a national treasure...