The death toll from the worst Ebola outbreak on record has reached nearly 7,000 in West Africa, according to the World Health Organisation.
The toll of 6,928 dead showed a leap of just over 1,200 since the WHO released its previous report on Wednesday, according to a Reuters news agency report.
The UN health agency did not provide any explanation for the abrupt increase, but the figures, published on its website, appeared to include previously unreported deaths.
As long as there's one person with Ebola out there, then the crisis isn't over and Ebola is a risk to the people of that community, that country, this sub-region, this continent, this world.
A WHO spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
Just over 16,000 people have been diagnosed with Ebola since the outbreak was confirmed in the forests of remote southeastern Guinea in March, according to the WHO data that covered the three hardest-hit countries.
Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia have accounted for all but 15 of the deaths in the outbreak, which has touched five other countries, according to previous WHO figures.
In a separate development, Sierra Leone will soon see a dramatic increase in desperately needed treatment beds, but it is not clear who will staff them, a top UN official in the fight against the disease has said.
Sierra Leone is now bearing the brunt of the eight-month-old outbreak. In the other hard-hit countries, Liberia and Guinea, WHO says infection rates are stabilising or declining, but in Sierra Leone, they’re soaring. The country has been reporting around 400 to 500 new cases each week for several weeks.
Those cases are concentrated in the capital, Freetown, its surrounding areas and the northern Port Loko district, which together account for about 65 percent of the country’s new infections, Anthony Banbury, head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, said in an interview with the Associated Press news agency.
“The critical gap right now in those locations are beds. It’s as simple that: We need more beds,” said Banbury, who spoke by telephone from Ghana, where the mission is headquartered.
Only about 350 of some 1,200 promised treatment beds are up and running, according to WHO figures.
‘A long, hard fight’
Five more British-built treatment centres will open next month, tripling the current bed capacity, according to the UK’s Department for International Development. One near the capital is already up and running.
Still, more beds alone are not enough.
“We’re concerned that the partners who have signed up to operate the beds won’t be able to operate them in the numbers and timeline really required,” Banbury said. He is flying to Sierra Leone to address that problem.
The UN had hoped that by December 1, the end of the outbreak would be in sight: Two months ago, it said it wanted to have 70 percent of Ebola cases isolated and 70 percent of dead bodies safely buried by that date.
WHO numbers show they are significantly short of that goal and Banbury acknowledged that the overall goal would not be met. He stressed that tremendous progress has been made, and many places throughout the region would meet or even exceed the targets set.
“As long as there’s one person with Ebola out there, then the crisis isn’t over and Ebola is a risk to the people of that community, that country, this sub-region, this continent, this world,” he said.
“Our goal and what we will achieve is getting it down to zero, but there’s no doubt it’s going to be a long, hard fight.”