Ebola epi­demic will ex­plode by mid-De­cem­ber and kill tens of thou­sands of peo­ple, sci­en­tists warn

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL -

The Ebola epi­demic dev­as­tat­ing parts of West Africa will have killed tens of thou­sands of peo­ple by the mid­dle of De­cem­ber un­less ur­gent ac­tion is taken. In a re­port pub­lished to­day, sci­en­tists warn the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to con­trol the out­break is ‘rapidly clos­ing’. As a re­sult, there could be ‘calami­tous reper­cus­sions’, un­less in­ter­na­tional ef­forts to con­trol the dis­ease are sub­stan­tially in­creased.

A team of U.S. re­searchers used math­e­mat­i­cal mod­el­ling to pre­dict in­fec­tion rates in Liberia’s most pop­u­lated county, Montser­rado.

They cal­cu­lated that with­out ex­tra help, as many as 171,000 peo­ple could suc­cumb to Ebola by De­cem­ber 15, rep­re­sent­ing 12 per cent of an over­all pop­u­la­tion of some 1.38 mil­lion.

In Montser­rado alone, there could be more than 90,000 deaths by that time, many of them un­re­ported.

A sin­gle in­fected in­di­vid­ual could pass on the in­fec­tion to an av­er­age of 2.49 peo­ple in Montser­rado, the re­searchers cal­cu­lated.

Lead re­searcher Pro­fes­sor Ali­son Gal­vani, from the School of Pub­lic Health at Yale Univer­sity, said: ‘Our pre­dic­tions high­light the rapidly clos­ing win­dow of op­por­tu­nity for con­trol­ling the out­break and avert­ing a cat­a­strophic toll of new Ebola cases and deaths in the com­ing months.

‘Although we might still be within the midst of what will ul­ti­mately be viewed as the early phase of the cur­rent out­break, the pos­si­bil­ity of avert­ing calami­tous reper­cus­sions from an ini­tially de­layed and in­suf­fi­cient re­sponse is quickly erod­ing.’

The news comes as the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s emer­gency com­mit­tee de­cided screen­ing pas­sen­gers for Ebola may have a ‘limited ef­fect’ in stop­ping the spread of the virus.

The com­mit­tee warned that ‘re­source de­mands may be sig­nif­i­cant’ when screen­ing in­com­ing pas­sen­gers, but that it is up to in­di­vid­ual Gov­ern­ments to de­cide whether the mea­sure is nec­es­sary.

Pas­sen­gers are al­ready screened as they leave Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Writ­ing in the jour­nal The Lancet In­fec­tious Dis­eases, the re­searchers to­day warned some 97,940 cases of the dis­ease could be averted if the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity stepped up con­trol mea­sures im­me­di­ately, start­ing from Oc­to­ber 31, ac­cord­ing to their model.

This would re­quire more Ebola treat­ment beds, a five­fold in­crease in the speed at which new cases are de­tected, and the al­lo­ca­tion of pro­tec­tive kits to house­holds of pa­tients await­ing ad­mis­sion to clin­ics. At best, just over 53,957 cases could be pre­vented if in­ter­ven­tions are de­layed un­til Novem­ber 15, said the re­searchers.

Around 9,000 Ebola cases and 4,500 deaths have been re­ported in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since the out­break be­gan in De­cem­ber last year. Health work­ers in the US, Spain and UK have been in­fected after be­ing ex­posed to the virus in Africa.

There are fears of the dis­ease spread­ing from Africa to other parts of the world de­spite re­stric­tions at air and sea ports.

Of the five African coun­tries orig­i­nally af­fected by the out­break, Nige­ria and Sene­gal have now been de­clared Ebola-free.

Co-au­thor Pro­fes­sor Fred­er­ick Altice, also from Yale Univer­sity, said: ‘The cur­rent global health strat­egy is woe­fully in­ad­e­quate to stop the cur­rent volatile Ebola epi­demic.

‘At a min­i­mum, ca­pa­ble lo­gis­ti­cians are needed to con­struct a suf­fi­cient num­ber of Ebola treat­ment units in or­der to avoid the un­nec­es­sary deaths of tens, if not hun­dreds, of thou­sands of peo­ple.’

A man pre­pares to en­ter the iso­la­tion unit at the Ebola treat­ment cen­tre in Lakka, Liberia. To­day sci­en­tists warned a sin­gle in­fected in­di­vid­ual could pass on the

in­fec­tion to an av­er­age of 2.49 peo­ple.

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