A regional centre is being set up in Guinea to co-ordinate the response to the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola that has killed hundreds of people in West Africa, the World Health Organisation said on Friday.
The haemorrhagic fever sweeping through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has left an estimated 539 people dead, according to the latest WHO figures.
Tracking and treating the disease has been a challenge as rural populations are often highly mistrustful of foreign doctors and don't follow their advice.
Traditional practices which include touching the bodies at their funerals have also contributed to the spread of the virus.
“The sub-regional centre will be responsible for ensuring effective use and deployment of limited and scarce, but highly critical resources based on prioritisation and agreed objectives,” the WHO said in a statement.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, said last week the outbreak was “out of control”, with more than 60 hotspots.
MSF and the UN health agency have said the outbreak is expected to continue for several months.
However the WHO said on Friday that transmission appeared to have slowed in worst-hit Guinea, with only one new case reported in the past week.
A total of 309 people are confirmed or suspected to have died of Ebola in the west African nation where the epidemic broke out in February.
The largest number of new cases and deaths attributed to Ebola and reported this week came out of Sierra Leone, where another 32 people fell sick and 15 died.
Liberia has had 142 cases, 88 of whom have died and Sierra Leone 337 case of Ebola and 142 deaths.
The WHO said it did not recommend any travel or trade restrictions be applied to the three countries.
Ebola is a form of haemorrhagic fever which has several species and can be deadly in up to 90 percent of cases.
It can fell victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhoea - and in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.
Ebola is believed to be carried by animals hunted for meat, notably bats.
It spreads among humans via bodily fluids including sweat, meaning you can get sick from simply touching an infected person. With no vaccine, patients believed to have caught the virus have to be isolated to prevent further contagion.
The outbreak is the first in west Africa, and the largest since Ebola first emerged in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. - Sapa-AFP