Via The New York Times: Ebola Is ‘Disaster’ of Scale Still Unknown, Relief Official Says.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is “a complete disaster,” and health agencies do not yet grasp its scope, the president of the relief group Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday.
“No one yet has the full measure of the magnitude of this crisis,” the president, Dr. Joanne Liu, said in an interview. “We don’t have good data collection. We don’t have enough surveillance.”
With two treatment centers in each of the three hardest-hit countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — her organization is treating more patients than any other entity.
Dr. Liu said agencies like the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other aid groups should become more involved in prevention and surveillance, including tracing the contacts of people who are sick.
“We need more people in the field,” she said.
The lethal virus has bred a larger medical crisis, Dr. Liu said. In Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, the health system collapsed as workers and patients fled hospitals out of fear of Ebola, allowing diseases like malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea to kill children who would otherwise have been saved.
She said she learned from her staff about six pregnant women who lost babies because they could not find an open maternity ward.
Her colleagues at Doctors Without Borders — often called M.S.F. for its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières — are overwhelmed, she said. In one center, until recently, five people were caring for 100 patients. During crises, many doctors work for the group on rotations of up to six weeks, for which they get small stipends.
The supply of volunteers is drying up. Although the group now operates in a number of war zones — including Gaza, Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine — West Africa is the hardest to staff, Dr. Liu said.
“The reality is, it’s difficult to recruit for Ebola,” she said. “You have to learn to live with fear. Not everybody is equipped to do that.”
Hiring local people is equally hard, she said, because their families fear they will bring the virus home.
And the treatment of Ebola is exhausting. When Dr. Liu worked in Syria, she said, there were lulls after aircraft dropped barrel bombs and the wounded were treated in the emergency room. Ebola patients need constant care, and the numbers are still growing in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
The W.H.O. said Tuesday that there were “encouraging signs” in Nigeria and Guinea even though 113 new cases were reported in those countries and the two other affected nations. That brought the total number of cases to 2,240, with more than 1,200 deaths.
I am now following Dr. Liu on Twitter. You should too.