Ebola: Massive Deployment Needed to Fight Epidemic in West Africa

Sylvain Cherkaoui/Cosmos


NEW YORK/BRUSSELS—Bringing the spreading Ebola epidemic under control in West Africa will require a massive deployment of resources by regional governments and aid agencies, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today, warning that it has reached the limit of what it can do to fight the deadly outbreak.

Ebola patients have been identified in more than 60 locations in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, complicating efforts to treat patients and curb the outbreak. MSF is the only aid organization treating people affected by the virus, which can kill up to 90 percent of those infected.

“The epidemic is out of control,” said Dr. Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations. “With the appearance of new sites in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, there is a real risk of it spreading to other areas.”

Since the outbreak began in March, MSF has treated 470 patients—215 of them confirmed cases—in specialized treatment centers.

However, MSF is having difficulty responding to the large number of new cases emerging in different locations.

“We have reached our limits,” said Janssens. “Despite the human resources and equipment deployed by MSF in the three affected countries, we are no longer able to send teams to the new outbreak sites.”

The scale of the current Ebola epidemic is unprecedented in terms of geographical distribution and the numbers of cases and deaths. There have been 528 cases and 337 deaths since the epidemic began, according to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures.

This is the first time that Ebola has broken out in the region. Local communities are still very frightened of the disease, viewing health facilities with suspicion. Meanwhile, a lack of understanding about how the disease spreads has resulted in people attending funerals where infection-control measures are not implemented.

Despite the presence of a number of organizations working to raise awareness about the disease, their activities have not yet managed to reduce public anxiety about Ebola.

Meanwhile, civil society and political and religious authorities are failing to acknowledge the scale of the epidemic, with few prominent figures spreading messages promoting the fight against the disease.

“The WHO, the affected countries, and neighboring countries must deploy the resources necessary for an epidemic of this scale,” said Janssen. “In particular, qualified medical staff need to be made available, training in how to treat Ebola needs to be organized, and awareness-raising activities among the population need to be stepped up. Ebola is no longer a public health issue limited to Guinea. It is affecting the whole of West Africa.”

In Guinea, MSF is supporting the health authorities by treating patients in Conakry, Télimélé, and Guéckédou. Additional treatment units have been built in Macenta, Kissidougou, and Dabola. MSF teams are responding to alerts in villages, raising awareness in communities, and offering psychological support to patients and their families. MSF is also supporting epidemiological surveillance.

In Sierra Leone, MSF is working with the Ministry of Health in constructing a 50-bed Ebola treatment center in Kailahun, due to open this week. Small transit care units have already been set up in Koidu and Daru, with a third to open soon in Buedu. MSF has also provided the Ministry of Health with supplies for the construction of additional treatment centers. 

In Liberia, an MSF team has set up a treatment unit in Foya, in the north of the country, and another in JFK Hospital in Monrovia. MSF has also organized training courses and donated equipment.

MSF currently has some 300 international and national staff working in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. It has sent more than 40 tons of equipment and supplies to the region to help fight the epidemic.

The logistics team erects an incinerator in the isolation ward.
Sylvain Cherkaoui/Cosmos