According to the WHO, the demands of the ebola outbreak in the hardest hit country of Liberia have now "completely outstripped the government’s and partners’ capacity to respond."
With 14 of the country's 15 counties now reporting confirmed cases, the situation has become dire.
"Of all Ebola-affected countries, Liberia has the highest cumulative number of reported cases and deaths, amounting, on 8 September, to nearly two thousand cases and more than one thousand deaths. The case-fatality rate, at 58%, is also among the highest," the WHO reports.
"Some 152 health care workers have been infected and 79 have died. When the outbreak began, Liberia had only 1 doctor to treat nearly 100,000 people in a total population of 4.4 million people. Every infection or death of a doctor or nurse depletes response capacity significantly."
More than a million people live in Montserrado county, which includes the Liberian capital of Monrovia where people live in teeming slums that have no sanitation, very little running water and virtually no electrical service. The current state of the outbreak is calling for 1,000 beds to be available immediately, but only 240 can be found.
As a result, whole families are driving around in taxis in Monrovia searching for help for their infected family members, but are finding none. They have no choice but to return home where they inevitably infect others. In addition, motorbike-taxis and regular taxis are becoming a hotbed of potential Ebola virus transmission, as these vehicles are never disinfected.
The country's health care capacity is simply not up to the task of such a large and deadly outbreak. For instance, the John F Kennedy Medical Center in Monrovia, which was largely destroyed during Liberia’s civil war, remains the country’s only academic referral hospital. According to the WHO, the hospital is plagued by electrical fires and floods, and several medical staff have already died from the disease.
"The fact that early symptoms of Ebola virus disease mimic those of many other common infectious diseases increases the likelihood that Ebola patients will be treated in the same ward as patients suffering from other infections, putting cases and medical staff alike at very high risk of exposure," the WHO warns.
Those few patients who were taken out of the country and treated at more advanced facilities, such as the two infected American aid workers, have mostly survived the disease.
Another issue concerns the fallout from the outbreak in the form of orphans and recovered patients who have been rejected by families or neighbors and are left wandering around in search of shelter and support.
Sadly, the problem isn't confined to Liberia. Countries such as Guinea and Sierra Leone are also experiencing more and more cases of the deadly hemorrhagic fever and are said to be experiencing a phenomenon never before seen in any previous Ebola outbreak.
"As soon as a new Ebola treatment facility is opened, it immediately fills to overflowing with patients, pointing to a large but previously invisible caseload."
Just how large is this "invisible caseload"? This is particularly concerning because of the many inhabitants of these countries who are relying on witch doctors and native "cures" instead of whatever modern medicine is available to them.
For this reason, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan told agencies and officials last week in New York City and Washington, DC, development partners need to prepare for an “exponential increase” in Ebola cases in countries currently experiencing intense virus transmission.
"Many thousands of new cases are expected in Liberia over the coming 3 weeks," the WHO stated.
"WHO and its Director-General will continue to advocate for more Ebola treatment beds in Liberia and elsewhere, and will hold the world accountable for responding to this dire emergency with its unprecedented dimensions of human suffering."
The CDC is advising people to avoid all nonessential travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and to travel with caution to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a small number of cases have recently occurred.
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