The latest figures released by the World Health Organization earlier this week on the number of individuals infected by the Ebola virus in West Africa show a grim situation. Nearly 2,000 individuals have contracted the infectious and highly fatal virus, 1,069 of whom have died.
The growing number of Ebola cases, the number of countries affected and the threats of the disease becoming a global epidemic have prompted WHO to declare a global health emergency.
Latest data available show that since the outbreak started, Sierra Leone had 783 cases and 334 deaths; Nigeria had 12 cases and three deaths; Liberia had 670 cases and 355 deaths; and Guinea had 510 cases and 377 deaths. The U.N agency, however, said that the outbreak, which has already affected four West African countries, is worse than what the number suggests.
In a statement released on Thursday, Aug. 14, WHO said that the reported number of cases and deaths associated with the hemorrhagic fever underestimates the actual magnitude of the situation. The agency said that while no additional cases were reported in Nigeria, it expects the outbreak to continue to rage across West Africa.
"Elsewhere, the outbreak is expected to continue for some time," WHO said. "Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak."
AIDS group including the Médecins Sans Frontières e.g. Doctors Without Borders, which has nearly 700 workers in the Ebola-affected areas, have criticized WHO and governments for their failure to recognize the damage caused by the virus since it emerged earlier this year.
WHO's acknowledgement that the actual situation in the affected countries is worse than previously believed could prompt aid groups and governments to adopt stronger measures to contain and prevent the further spread of the virus, which to date has no available treatment.
A top World Bank official revealed that international agencies mull on resorting to emergency food drops and truck convoys to send aid to hungry people in Sierra Leone and Liberia who cannot be with the outside world in a bid to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
West African governments also showed signs of adopting more stringent measures to contain the disease. Guinea's President Alpha Conde on Wednesday declared a public health emergency and announced several measures that the Guinean government and citizens are to adopt to contain and prevent the further spread of the virus.
The virus spreads through contact with bodily fluids. A lack of protective medical supplies, difficult conditions that make it hard to follow infectious disease control procedures and impose strict quarantines, and burial customs where the family washes the body often spread the disease. While no vaccine is available, rest and rehydration can help those who get the virus to recover, but mortality rates are between 60 percent and 90 percent.