Fall in new Ebola cases brings hope disease can be defeated in West Africa

Report shows significant drop in infections as communities change healing and burial practices

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The Independent Online

New cases of Ebola are declining and the deadly disease will be defeated in West Africa, according to the UN.

At least 50 hot spots remain in the three hardest-hit countries but the latest report from the World Health Organisation shows reductions in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Dr David Nabarro, the UN’s Ebola chief said: “It’s very good news.”

Last week, Guinea reported its lowest weekly total of new Ebola cases since mid-August. Liberia had its lowest total since the first week of June and no confirmed new cases for the final two days of the week. And new cases in Sierra Leone declined for a second week to the lowest level since the end of August.

But Dr Nabarro warned: “There are still a number of new cases that are alarming, and there are hot spots that are emerging in new places that make me believe there is still quite a lot of the disease that we’re not seeing.”

He said there were at least 50 micro-outbreaks and that the chains of transmission had still to be understood.

 

The Ebola outbreak has been the worst in history. According to the latest WHO report released on Wednesday, there have been more than 21,000 cases and 8,300 deaths. The death toll in Liberia is 3,538, followed by Sierra Leone with 3,062 deaths and Guinea with 1,814.

Dr Nabarro said the key to fighting the disease was getting communities to change their traditional healing rituals and funeral and burial practices, which involve a lot of contact with body fluids. In some cases as many as 50 people have become infected at a single funeral.

He said the national and international campaign for safe healing and burial practices, isolation of suspected cases, and quick treatment for victims was working.

But he appealed for greater global support including “virus detectives” to identify where there are cases; anthropologists  to find out how communities are reacting; and managers to make sure treatment centres are adequately equipped.

“We saw a big shift in behaviours in Liberia in November and December,” he said.

“We’re now seeing a big shift of behaviours in much of Sierra Leone, though there are still one or two communities that are reluctant to change. And we’re beginning to see a big shift in behaviours in Guinea as well.”

AP

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