The Ebola outbreak is spreading through West Africa faster than the World Health Organization's efforts to contain the virus, the international group announced Friday morning.
"This is an unprecedented outbreak accompanied by unprecedented challenges. And these challenges are extraordinary," said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, in a statement.
To date, there are 1,323 suspected and confirmed cases and 729 deaths in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. The large dispersal of the virus is making coordinating responses particularly challenging, said Dr. Chen. So is the number of health workers that have been infected: more than 60 doctors and nurses have died on the Ebola front line.
"It is the largest in terms of geographical areas already affected and others at immediate risk of further spread," said Dr. Chen. "It is taking place in areas with fluid population movements over porous borders, and it has demonstrated its ability to spread via air travel, contrary to what has been seen in past outbreaks."
In the past, Ebola outbreaks typically occurred in rural areas in East Africa. This time, they're also happening in densely populated city centers mainly in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia on the western side of the continent. "Affected countries have made extraordinary efforts and introduced extraordinary measures. But the demands created by Ebola in West Africa outstrip your capacities to respond."
As a result, the WHO is convening an emergency committee meeting on August 6 to figure out what to do next and whether this outbreak is a "public health emergency of international concern."
"This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response," said Dr. Chen.
"Experiences in Africa over nearly four decades tell us clearly that, when well managed, an Ebola outbreak can be stopped."