Ebola outbreak ‘slowing down’ in West Africa

UN special envoy says there has been a significant drop in the number of cases after locals adopted safer practices.

About 21,000 people have been infected in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since March [AFP]

An outbreak of Ebola that has claimed more than 8,400 lives in West Africa appears to be slowing down, though the battle to contain the disease is not over, the UN special envoy on the virus has said.

“The change in behaviour that we’ve been hoping for, working for, anticipating, is now happening everywhere,” Dr David Nabarro told Reuters news agency in an interview on Thursday.

“The facilities to treat people are available everywhere,” he said. “Safe burial teams are providing safe and dignified burial services everywhere and the result is that we’re seeing the beginnings of the outbreak slowing down.”

The worst epidemic of the virus on record has infected about 21,200 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since it was detected in March, according to the World Health Organisation.

The government of Liberia said earlier on Thursday that it could be free of the virus by the end of next month after success in curbing transmission.

It said the country had only 10 confirmed Ebola cases as of January 12.

“It’s an incredible drop,” Nabarro said, adding that he believed the Liberian figures were “absolutely correct.”

Nabarro described “a remarkable collective change in patterns of behaviour” and said Liberia had “come to terms with the reality that the outbreak of Ebola is being driven by the way in which people behave.”

More than 3,500 of the 8,400 dead were from Liberia.

The hemorrhagic fever is spread through contact with bodily fluids of infected people or the highly contagious body of someone who has died of the virus. Nabarro said burial practices that involved people touching and cleaning bodies of Ebola victims had helped fuel the outbreak.

“Death-related practices in the region had been responsible for a quite dramatic spread of the virus,” said Nabarro. He said that as people realised the dangers they adopted safer behaviour that led to a drop in infections.

The three hardest-hit countries now have the capacity to quickly set up mobile centres to handle localised outbreaks.

“Those who are involved in the response have worked out that they can organise rapid mobile responses in case there’s a flare up anywhere, so they can set up small temporary treatment facilities wherever they are needed,” Nabarro said.

He said that the support of the US, British and French military, which built treatment centres in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, had also played a crucial role in containment efforts.

Source: Reuters