GENEVA, Switzerland, August 28, 2014 (ENS) – The World Health Organization today issued an overarching plan to guide and coordinate the international response to the unprecedented outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa that now threatens to spread.

The WHO acknowledges that the number of Ebola cases could exceed 20,000 over the course of this emergency. About half of those infected die of the disease, which is spread by contact with bodily fluids, but is not airborne.

The Ebola Response Roadmap assumes that in many areas of intense transmission the actual number of cases may be up to four times greater than currently reported.

WHO workers

World Health Organization workers gearing up to go into old Ebola isolation ward in Lagos, Nigeria. August 19, 2014 (Photo by Bryan Christensen / CDC Global)

The UN agency’s plan recognizes that “a number of currently unaffected countries could be exposed” to the Ebola virus, but assumes that the emergency application of the standard control strategies will stop any new transmission within eight weeks.

As of August 27, the cumulative number of known Ebola cases stands at more than 3,000, with over 1,400 deaths, making this the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded, despite major gaps in reporting in some intense transmission areas, the WHO said in a statement.

Nearly 40 percent of the total number of reported cases have occurred within the past three weeks.

An unprecedented number of health care workers have also been infected and have died due to this outbreak. However, the U.S. medical missionaries who became infected in Liberia have recovered in a U.S. hospital and were released to their families last week.

WHO said it aims to stop ongoing Ebola transmission worldwide within six to nine months, while rapidly managing the consequences of any further international spread.

The Roadmap “responds to the urgent need to dramatically scale up the international response.”

“The 2014 Ebola Virus Disease outbreak continues to evolve in alarming ways, with the severely affected countries, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, struggling to control the escalating outbreak against a backdrop of severely compromised health systems, significant deficits in capacity, and rampant fear,” the WHO said, announcing the plan today.

Frieden

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, enters the new Ebola treatment unit at the ELWA hospital in Monrovia, Liberia run by MSF. The new 120-bed facility opened on August 17 and is already overwhelmed. It could expand to 300 beds by September 2. (Photo by CDC Global)

The Roadmap was informed by comments received from a large number of partners, including health officials in the affected countries, the African Union, development banks, other UN agencies, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, and countries providing direct financial support, such as the United States.

It will serve as a framework for updating detailed operational plans. Priority is being given to needs for treatment and management centers, social mobilization, and safe burials, because corpses of those who have died of the disease are highly infectious.

Fundamental to the Roadmap is the strengthening of laboratory, human resource, and response capacities, all of which are on the critical pathway for short-term and long-term Ebola control, as well as strengthening of the public health infrastructure against future threats.

Some areas require particularly urgent action, such as infection control training, the WHO said.

The agency says it expects that solutions to the current limitations on air traffic to and from the worst affected countries will be addressed within two weeks.

WHO officials say that by the end of September, a comprehensive, UN-led plan will be launched to complement the Ebola Response Roadmap by providing a common operational platform for enhancing response activities and for addressing the broader socioeconomic consequences of the outbreak.

The UN-led plan is expected to underpin support for the increasingly acute problems associated with food security, protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, primary and secondary health care, and education, as well as the longer-term recovery effort that will be needed.

That plan will also need to address the complex social consequences of this emergency, such as the increasing number of children who have been orphaned.

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Ebola response volunteers in Nigeria, August 28, 2014 (Photo by CDC Global)

WHO will begin to issue regular situation reports this week. The situation reports map the hotspots and hot zones, present epidemiological data showing how the outbreak is evolving over time, and communicate what is known about the location of treatment facilities and laboratories, together with data needed to support other elements of the Roadmap.

The Roadmap covers the health dimensions of the international response, including key potential bottlenecks requiring international coordination, such as the supply of personal protective equipment, disinfectants, and body bags.

The WHO plan will be complemented by the development of a separate UN-wide operational platform that brings in the skills and capacities of other agencies, including assets in the areas of logistics and transportation.

The UN-wide platform aims to facilitate the delivery of essential services, such as food and other provisions, water supply and sanitation, and primary health care.

Financial resources to implement the Roadmap will be tracked separately, with support from the World Bank.

World Bank Group will mobilize millions to aid affected families and communities and to build up public health systems in West Africa.

World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim of the United States, a medical doctor experienced in the treatment of infectious diseases, said the new financing commitment comes in response to a plea for help from the three African countries hardest hit by Ebola and the World Health Organization.

“I believe this new World Bank emergency funding will provide critically needed support for the response to stop the further transmission of Ebola within Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, which would prevent new infections in neighboring at-risk countries,” said Dr. Kim.

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Rwandan economist Donald Kaberuka is president of the African Development Bank. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka said today that the Bank and the WHO signed a US$60 million grant on Tuesday in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

At a joint press conference held with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Kaberuka said the Bank donated to help train medical workers and purchase supplies to fight the outbreak. Some $15 million will be disbursed in September, Kaberuka said, expressing hope the donation would stop money being diverted away from other programs such as education and agriculture.

Kaberuka warned against “unnecessary stringent measures” imposed on affected countries by some airlines and governments.

“I understand the countries which are posing restrictions … but let us only do so based on medical evidence and not on political imperatives,” said Kaberuka. The WHO has repeatedly advised against such bans, warning they could cause food and supply shortages.

The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, airlifted 100 metric tonnes of health and hygiene supplies to Liberia’s Roberts International Airport Tuesday morning, strengthening national efforts to combat the Ebola epidemic that has infected thousands in Liberia since emerging in March.

The shipment of emergency supplies was procured by the Government of Liberia with funding from the World Bank.

This is the second airlift of critically needed supplies that UNICEF has delivered this week, following an earlier airlift of 68 metric tonnes of health and hygiene supplies procured with USAID assistance on Saturday. Both shipments are part of the largest emergency supply operation in UNICEF’s history in a single month.

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