DAKAR/LAGOS – The world’s “disastrously inadequate response” to West Africa’s Ebola outbreak means many people are dying who could easily be saved, the head of the World Bank said Monday, as Nigeria confirmed another case of the highly contagious virus.
In a newspaper editorial, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said Western health care facilities would easily be able to contain the disease, and he urged wealthy nations to share knowledge and resources to help African countries tackle it.
“The crisis we are watching unfold derives less from the virus itself and more from deadly and misinformed biases that have led to a disastrously inadequate response to the outbreak,” Kim wrote in the Washington Post.
“Many are dying needlessly,” read the editorial, co-written by Harvard University professor Paul Farmer with whom Kim founded Partners In Health, a charity that works for better health care in poorer countries.
Ebola can only be transmitted by contact with the bodily fluids of a sick person but rigorous measures are required for its containment. There is no known cure, though work on experimental vaccines has been accelerated.
More than 1,500 people have been killed in West Africa in the worst outbreak since the disease was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola river in what is now Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 3,000 people, mostly in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, have been infected.
Poor health care provision has exacerbated the challenge. Liberia had just 50 doctors for its 4.3 million people before the outbreak, and many medical workers have died of Ebola.
Shortages of basic goods, foodstuffs, and medical equipment have been worsened by the decision by airlines to stop flying to the worst-hit countries. Several neighboring states have closed their borders and many international organizations have pulled their foreign staff.
The World Health Organization said last week that casualty figures may be up to four times higher than reported and said up to 20,000 people may be affected before the outbreak ends. It launched a $490 million plan to contain the epidemic.
Kim and Farmer said that if international organizations and wealthy nations mounted a coordinated response with West African nations using the WHO plan, the fatality rate could drop to below 20 percent — from 50 percent now.
“We are at a dangerous moment,” they wrote. “Tens of thousands of lives, the future of the region and hard-won economic and health gains for millions hang in the balance.”
Nigeria confirmed a third case of Ebola on Monday in the oil hub of Port Harcourt, bringing the total confirmed infections nationwide to 16, with around 200 people under surveillance.
A doctor in Port Harcourt died last week after treating a contact of the Liberian-American man who was the first recorded case of the virus in Africa’s most populous country. That raised alarm that Ebola, which looked on the verge of being contained in the commercial capital, Lagos, may flare up elsewhere.
Senegal, a transport hub and center for aid agencies, on Friday became the fifth African nation to confirm a case of Ebola, a 21-year-old Guinean student who had evaded surveillance in his homeland and arrived in Dakar.
“People should know that if it were not for this boy’s state of health, he would be before the courts,” President Macky Sall told state television. “You cannot be a carrier of sickness and take it to other countries.”
Some shops in the bustling Senegalese capital ran out of hand sanitizer on Monday as concerned residents stocked up.
The house and shop owned by the student’s relatives in the densely populated Dakar neighborhood of Parcelles Assainies was disinfected by health teams. Authorities placed 20 people who had come into contact with the student under surveillance and were giving them twice daily health checks.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) called for the rapid deployment of staff and resources.
“The international response is slow and derisory. It can equally be defined as irresponsible,” MSF said.