WHO has published the text of Dr. Margaret Chan's speech at the meeting today in Conakry: WHO Director-General assesses the Ebola outbreak with four West African presidents. Excerpt:
Let me give you some frank assessments of what we face. And by “we”, I mean your countries and your neighbours, WHO and its partners in outbreak response, including civil society organizations, and the international community, including countries on other continents that can give you the support you so clearly need.
First, this outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it. If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries. As I said before, this meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response.
In addition, the outbreak is affecting a large number of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers, one of the most essential resources for containing an outbreak. To date, more than 60 health care workers have lost their lives in helping others. Some international staff are infected. These tragic infections and deaths significantly erode response capacity.
Second, the situation in West Africa is of international concern and must receive urgent priority for decisive action at national and international levels. Experiences in Africa over nearly four decades tell us clearly that, when well managed, an Ebola outbreak can be stopped.
This is not an airborne virus. Transmission requires close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, also after death. Apart from this specific situation, the general public is not at high risk of infection by the Ebola virus.
At the same time, it would be extremely unwise for national authorities and the international community to allow an Ebola virus to circulate widely and over a long period of time in human populations.
Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of viruses and other microbes. We must not give this virus opportunities to deliver more surprises.
Third, this is not just a medical or public health problem. It is a social problem. Deep-seated beliefs and cultural practices are a significant cause of further spread and a significant barrier to rapid and effective containment. This social dimension must also be addressed as an integral part of the overall response.
Fourth, in some areas, chains of transmission have moved underground. They are invisible. They are not being reported. Because of the high fatality rate, many people in affected areas associate isolation wards with a sure death sentence, and prefer to care for loved ones in homes or seek assistance from traditional healers.
Such hiding of cases defeats strategies for rapid containment. Moreover, public attitudes can create a security threat to response teams when fear and misunderstanding turn to anger, hostility, or violence.
Finally, despite the absence of a vaccine or curative therapy, Ebola outbreaks can most certainly be contained. Bedrocks of outbreak containment include early detection and isolation of cases, contact tracing and monitoring of contacts, and rigorous procedures for infection control.
Moreover, we do have some evidence that early detection of cases and early implementation of supportive therapy increases the chances of survival. This is another message that needs to be communicated to the public.
Excellences, ladies and gentlemen, Let me assure you: you are not alone in facing this unprecedented outbreak with all its unprecedented challenges.
Affected countries have made extraordinary efforts and introduced extraordinary measures. But the demands created by Ebola in West Africa outstrip your capacities to respond.
I have made myself personally responsible for coordinating international response efforts under WHO leadership, and personally responsible for mobilizing the support you need, on the most urgent basis possible.