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World Health Organization: Ebola Virus Outbreak Is a 'Public Emergency"

( [email protected] ) Aug 09, 2014 01:07 AM EDT

Ebola Strand
The Ebola outbreak has killed hundreds of people in West African countries (Photo: DailyTrust.com)

As the deadly Ebola virus spreads throughout Western Africa, the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak to be an international public health emergency that requires "extraordinary response" to stop its rapid spread.

Dr. Margaret Chan, chief of the World Health Organization, said the announcement is "a clear call for international solidarity," but acknowledged that many countries will likely never experience an Ebola outbreak.

"Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own," Chan said at a news conference in Geneva convened specifically to assess the severity of the outbreak.

 "I urge the international community to provide this support on the most urgent basis possible."

This latest outbreak is the largest ever recorded of Ebola, which has a 99% mortality rate and has killed at least 932 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, and is suspected in Nigeria.  Currently, there is no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola.

However, many have criticized Dr. Chan's assertions, saying nothing has changed in Western Africa.

"Statements won't save lives," said Dr. Bart Janssens, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders.

"For weeks, (we) have been repeating that a massive medical, epidemiological and public health response is desperately needed. ... Lives are being lost because the response is too slow."

"I don't know what the advantage is of declaring an international emergency," added Dr. David Heymann, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"This could bring in more foreign aid but we don't know that yet," he said.

Other hope the declaration would send more health workers to West Africa.

"The situation is very critical and different from what we've seen before," said Dr. Heinz Feldmann, chief of virology at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. "There are so many locations with transmission popping up and we just need more people on the ground."

This week, Liberia and Sierra Leone brought in troops to enforce quarantines and prohibit people infected with Ebola from traveling. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also ordered that no one with a fever would be allowed in or out of the country and warned some civil liberties could be suspended if needed to bring the virus under control.

In concluding her statement, Chan noted that while extraordinary measures might be necessary to contain the outbreak, it is important to recognize civil rights.

"We need to respect the dignity of people and inform them why these measures are being taken," she said.

Tags : Ebola, outbreak, World Health Organization, Emergency