The World Health Organization (WHO) is running out of funds to fight Ebola in West Africa just as the three hardest hit countries begin to make progress against the virus. At the same time, WHO warned, West Africa’s rainy season in April and May could accelerate the virus’s spread.
Bruce Aylward, the assistant director-general in charge of the Ebola response, said Friday that the WHO will no longer have money to support efforts to fight the virus by mid-February — long before the outbreak is projected to be contained.
“That is four or five months before that virus is going to stop in a best case scenario,” Aylward said at a media briefing, according to Reuters.
New Ebola cases have declined for the past month in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, signaling that the outbreak may finally be past its peak. But the looming cash crisis threatens that progress, warned Aylward.
“[We] can stop transmission if we have the money and the people, and we don’t have either,” he said.
He cautioned that “the things that have been driving the reduction so far will not get us to zero” and that the spread of the virus had not yet been brought under control, reports the New York Times, adding:
He said too many new cases were still appearing in people who were not previously known to have had contact with infected people, and it was still taking too long to isolate new cases and head off further transmission. He said there was still a substantial risk of the disease spreading to other countries.
Compounding the problem is the upcoming rainy season, which Aylward said would make it harder for health workers to reach remote villages where the outbreak is still going strong.
“If you go into wet season with this disease you are looking at another hard year,” Aylward said.
He said $1.5 billion will be needed to fight Ebola over the next six months, according to the New York Times, but only $482 million had been committed so far. Now, with Ebola fading from the headlines, pledges of international financial support for Ebola response efforts are falling as well, Aylward said.
“There tends to be a false sense of security that this is somehow a controllable disease. There is no such thing as Ebola control, it has got to drive to zero,” he said. “It’s still an incredibly dangerous situation.”