GENEVA/LONDON – The World Health Organization said on Thursday it was still trying to slow the rate of new infections but had “reasonable confidence” that the Ebola virus plaguing three West African countries had not spread into neighboring states.
Asked whether countries such as Guinea Bissau, Mali and Cote d’Ivoire might have cases of the disease crossing their borders without knowing about or reporting them, WHO assistant director-general Keiji Fukuda said he considered that unlikely.
“I think that there is reasonable confidence right now that we are not seeing widespread transmission of Ebola into the neighboring countries,” Fukuda told a news briefing in Geneva.
“It remains a big concern for everybody, but we think that right now we are not seeing it. We think it would be very difficult to miss, basically.”
He conceded that some Ebola cases could go undetected or unreported by authorities “for a few days (or) for a week or two.”
“But if you’re really having outbreaks in which lots of people are dying, given the extensive coverage in all the countries, it doesn’t matter what country that you are in, you simply would not be able to cover up having lots of people die for mysterious reasons.”
Last week, the world health body said it would send teams of experts to Mali and Cote d’Ivoire to check their preparedness.
The economic damage of a major outbreak in Cote d’Ivoire would be felt around the world, since it and next-door Ghana produce about 60 percent of the world’s cocoa beans.
Although Senegal and Nigeria managed to contain the disease imported by travelers, Ebola is still raging in the three countries at the heart of the epidemic.
WHO’s Emergency Committee advising on Ebola said screening people leaving Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea by air, land and sea remained critical for reducing its spread.
On entry screening of passengers, introduced by some states, the experts said they could have a “limited effect” when added to exit checks. But the advantages and disadvantages should be weighed carefully and decisions made on a case-by-case basis.
At least 4,877 people are known to have died, but the true toll may be three times as much.
The response to the disease is now based on a “70-70-60 plan” to get 70 percent of patients in isolation and 70 percent of bodies buried safely within a 60-day period ending on Dec. 1.
But the elements needed to achieve that — bed spaces, treatment centers, laboratories, dead-body-management teams and volunteers — are still far short of what is required.
WHO originally appealed for 12,000 local staffers and 750 foreign experts, but it has raised those targets to 20,000 and 1,000 respectively. Fukuda said there were only 600 foreign experts so far.