Dakar/Lagos - The world's “disastrously inadequate response” to West Africa's Ebola outbreak means many people are dying needlessly, the head of the World Bank said on Monday, as Nigeria confirmed another case of the 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 urged wealthy nations to share the 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 healthcare in poorer countries.
In a vivid sign of the danger posed by inadequate health provision, a man escaped from an Ebola quarantine centre in Monrovia on Monday and sent people fleeing in fear as he walked through a market in search of food, a Reuters witness said.
The patient, who wore a tag showing he had tested positive for Ebola, held a stick and threw stones at a doctor from the centre in the Paynesville neighbourhood who stood at a distance and tried to persuade him to give himself up.
At one point, he stumbled and fell, apparently weakened by illness. Health-care workers wearing protective clothing forced him into a medical vehicle and returned him to the facility.
“We told the Liberian government from the beginning that we do not want an Ebola camp here. Today makes it the fifth Ebola patient coming outside vomiting,” said a man who watched the scene. Another witness said patients at the treatment centre did not receive enough food.
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 proven 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 healthcare 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 a decision by some airlines to stop flying to the worst hit countries. Several neighbouring states have closed their borders and many international organisations have pulled out their foreign staff.
The World Health Organisation said last week that casualty figures may be up to four times higher than reported, and that 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 organisations 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 of 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 centre for aid agencies, became the fifth African nation to confirm a case of Ebola on Friday, 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 sanitiser on Monday as concerned residents stocked up.
The house and shop owned by the student's relatives in the densely populated Dakar neighbourhood 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. - Reuters