The death toll from the worst Ebola outbreak in history has risen to almost 2,300 and is accelerating, as a government minister in the worst affected country warned the disease was “devouring everything in its path”.
The World Health Organisation said on Tuesday the death toll had rapidly escalated to 2,296 out of 4,293 cases in five west African countries, and was expecting thousands of new cases in Liberia over the next three weeks.
At the UN in New York, Liberia’s minister of national defence, Brownie Samukai, warned that his country was facing catastrophe as it battled against the disease.
“Liberia is facing a serious threat to its national existence. The deadly Ebola virus has caused a disruption of the normal functioning of our state,” he told the UN security council.
“It is now spreading like wild fire, devouring everything in its path. The already weak health infrastructure of the country has been overwhelmed,” he told the 15-member council, adding that the initial international response was “less than robust”.
Liberia has recorded 2,046 cases resulting in 1,224 deaths. Guinea has 862 cases and 555 deaths, Sierra Leone 1,361 cases and 509 deaths, Nigeria 21 cases and 8 deaths and Senegal 3 cases – one confirmed and two suspected.
The WHO’s director of disease, Sylvie Briand, told a meeting in Geneva that it believed the figures were underestimated, especially in Liberia.
Latest data released by the WHO indicated that while the outbreak has been gathering pace for months, about 60 percent of Liberia’s cases and deaths occurred within the last three weeks.
It is now spreading like wild fire, devouring everything in its path. The already weak health infrastructure of the country has been overwhelmed
Meanwhile, the top UN envoy in Liberia says at least 160 health workers have contracted Ebola and 80 have died in the epidemic. Karin Landgren called the outbreak a “latter-day plague” that is growing exponentially.
She told told the UN that most health workers had gone for long stretches without proper protective equipment, training or pay.
A shortage of doctors and nurses to care for patients is being exacerbated by the sheer number of health workers becoming infected.
But that shortage may also be the reason they are getting infected, experts say.
“The fact that people that are highly trained are getting infected is because the number of cases is bigger than the bed capacity,” said Jorge Castilla, an epidemiologist with the EU’s department for humanitarian aid.
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from the UN in New York, said it was the first time the UNSC were discussing the matter, illustrating that Ebola was rapidly becoming a security threat.