More than 5,600 people have died from the current Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, noting that the situation in Sierra Leone is still growing worse.
In an update, the United Nations health agency said 15,935 confirmed, suspected or probable cases of Ebola had been reported in eight countries that have been hit by the disease. Most of the cases have been concentrated in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A total of 5,689 people have died of Ebola since the outbreak began, the WHO said. This past Friday, the WHO had reported 15,351 cases and 5,459 deaths.
The WHO cautioned in its update that transmission of the virus in Sierra Leone “remains intense” and is likely still picking up speed. “The total number of cases reported in Sierra Leone since the outbreak began (6,599) will soon eclipse the number reported from Liberia (7,168),” the agency said.
Ebola’s real overall toll is difficult to gauge because some hard-hit villages are remote while many urban centers have demonstrated resistance toward clinics in the area. The WHO has said its count may greatly underestimate the toll, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it believes the actual count could be between two and four times the WHO numbers.
Deadline for containing outbreak will not be met
The WHO said case incidence was stabilizing in Guinea and Liberia, but conceded that, “uncertainties in data preclude firm conclusions about progress toward UNMEER (U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response) goals,” it added.
UNMEER’s targets call for 70 percent of Ebola patients to be isolated and 70 percent of Ebola-related deaths safely buried as of Dec. 1. Earlier this week, Anthony Banbury, head of UNMEER, said the agency would not meet its target, despite progress in some areas.
Although more than 70 percent of patients have been isolated in Guinea, the agency is far behind that target in Liberia and Sierra Leone, WHO said. It also cited Mali, the sixth West African country to be hit by the epidemic, as a new area of concern.
Mali confirmed another case of Ebola on Monday, bringing the country’s total to eight cases — six of which have been fatal — since the outbreak spilled over their border from neighboring Guinea. Health officials in the country are monitoring 285 contacts exposed to the virus.
Ebola causes high fever and internal bleeding. The disease spreads via bodily fluids and the corpses of its victims can be contagious.
Contacts of people known to be infected should be monitored for symptoms including fever, but relatively low numbers being reported “suggest that in districts with high case incidence fewer contacts are currently registered in connection with each new case than is necessary to accurately monitor chains of transmission”, WHO warned.
WHO teams are also evaluating the preparedness of neighboring countries to combat Ebola, and visits are planned to the Central African Republic, Niger, and Ethiopia next week, it said.
Meanwhile, the first Cuban doctor infected with Ebola, evacuated from Sierra Leone to Geneva last week, is improving and responding to treatment, the University Hospital of Geneva said in a statement late on Tuesday. His medical team is “reasonably optimistic.”