A top US health official on Thursday urged swift action to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from becoming the next AIDS epidemic, as the health of an infected Spanish nurse deteriorated.
The United Nations chief meanwhile called for a 20-fold increase in the world’s response to the spread of Ebola, which has killed nearly 3,900 people in West Africa since the beginning of the year.
Ebola’s spillover into the United States and Europe has raised fears of a wider outbreak, and led the United States and Canada to start tougher airport screening of passengers arriving from West Africa.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has predicted the number of cases could mount to 1.4 million by January unless strong measures are taken to contain the disease, which is spread though close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.
“We have to work now so that it is not the world’s next AIDS,” CDC director Tom Frieden told the heads of the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund gathered in Washington.
“I would say that in the 30 years I’ve been working in public health, the only thing like this has been AIDS,” he added, warning of a “long fight” ahead.
– Spanish nurse –
In Madrid, the condition of a nurse who treated two elderly missionaries with Ebola has worsened, the hospital where she is being treated said.
Teresa Romero, who is the first person infected with Ebola outside Africa, had gone on leave after the second of her Ebola patients died on September 25.
She started to feel ill on September 29 but was not admitted to hospital until seven days later, creating a large window of time in which other people may have been exposed.
Health officials said they would monitor about 50 other people — mostly health staff — who had been in contact with Romero for the duration of the 21-day Ebola incubation period.
Six other people are in quarantine at the hospital as a precaution, including Romero’s husband and several health workers, according to the latest tally from the hospital.
– ‘Just take action’ –
The continuing outbreak in West Africa forced officials in Liberia — the nation worst hit by the Ebola outbreak — to postpone nationwide elections.
Almost three million voters had been due to go to polling stations on Tuesday but organizers said there was no way a “mass movement, deployment and gathering of people” could go ahead without endangering lives.
Leaders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone pressed the global community for more help on the frontline of the virus battlefield.
Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma assailed the global response to the epidemic thus far, saying it was moving more slowly than the spread of the disease.
“This slower-than-the-virus response needs to change,” he told the UN, World Bank and IMF chiefs in Washington.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said resources to support the fight need to be increased 20-fold, and urged nations to act without delay.
“Cases are growing exponentially,” Ban said. “Do not wait for consultation. Just take action.”
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim admitted that the world was “behind the curve” in the fight against Ebola.
Among Ebola’s latest victims is Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient cared for in the United States to die of the disease.
Just as his death was announced, US officials also ordered increased screening at five major airports in New York, Washington, Chicago, Atlanta and New Jersey.
French Health Minister Marisol Touraine said she was working with the authorities in countries badly affected by Ebola “to see in which conditions we can reinforce departure controls.”
The European Commission was expected to meet on October 17 to discuss possible new ways to monitor passengers arriving from affected countries.