A meeting of health experts in Ghana says they are likely to be dealing with an outbreak of deadly Ebola in west Africa for several months.
The United Nations health agency says it expects the worst Ebola outbreak in history to continue its deadly rampage through west Africa for at least “several months”.
The highly-contagious tropical bug has infected hundreds of people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) figures showing that confirmed or suspected cases had left 467 people dead and experts fearing it could spread throughout the region.
Keiji Fukuda, the UN agency’s assistant director-general of health security, said at the close of a regional summit of health ministers on the crisis in Ghana’s capital, it was “impossible to give a clear answer” on how far the epidemic could spread or when it might begin to retreat.
“I certainly expect that we are going to be dealing with this outbreak, minimum, for a few months to several months,” he told journalists.
“I really hope for us to see a turnaround where we begin to see a decrease in cases in the next several weeks.”
Marie-Christine Ferir, of medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF), echoed the assessment, saying the outbreak could “continue for about a few weeks, or perhaps months in certain parts”.
The warning came as health ministers from 12 nations wrapped up two days of talks in Accra with global experts in communicable diseases, with debate raging over the measures required to stop Ebola in its tracks.
They were expected to make a raft of recommendations to regional governments and to WHO on containing the disease, including the launch of a $10 million war chest to boost medical aid in the worst hit regions.
Three of the five species of Ebola can kill humans.
Health experts say one of the biggest obstacles to combating the epidemic has been traditional practices, such as touching the bodies of victims at their funerals, which are causing the virus to spread.
Ministers and experts say traditional village elders will be placed at the forefront of an education drive.