In direct contradiction to the peception that the Ebola virus is gradually being contained in Liberia as a result of the low number of cases now being reported, the Director of the United States-based Center for Disease Control, Dr. Tom Frieden, has made the alarming warning that the Ebola outbreak in the region is likely to get worse in the next few weeks.
He did not state the basis of his prediction.
Since the outbreak of the virus in the Mano River Union basin, it has claimed more than 1500 lives.
The CDC director’s observation is not good news for the world, most especially the countries afflicted by the virus, whose citizens go through the excruciating Ebola pain on a daily basis.
Dr. Frieden, who recently concluded a tour of affected Ebola countries including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and returned to the USA, said he expected the number of Ebola cases to accelerate in the next two weeks.
He is, however, urging governments of the affected countries and partners to act now.
"We're likely to see significant increases in cases. Already we have widespread transmissions in Liberia. In Sierra Leone, we're seeing strong signs that that will happen in the near future," he said. He did not say what those signs were.
The US health agency boss made the revelation during a tele-briefing of journalists in the US.
He noted that the outbreak is the first epidemic of Ebola the world has ever known, which indicates that the virus is spreading widely in society and is threatening the stability of affected and neighboring countries.
"The challenge is not knowing what to do, but doing it now," Dr. Frieden said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) last week predicted that the Ebola virus would claim over 20,000 lives in the affected countries before it is contained in the region. But President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other stakeholders have rejected such prediction, terming it as an arithmetic and calculator projection.
The Liberian President said such a projection can be proven wrong when citizens resolve collectively to tackle the menace. The prediction also says that the virus is likely to spread over to others countries
But Dr. Frieden noted during the briefing that there is still a window of opportunity, but added "that window is closing."
Meanwhile, the US government, through its Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), this Tuesday pledged up to $42.3 million in funding for the additional production of the ZMapp drug. The DHHS said the company would manufacture a small amount for early stage safety studies.
The drug, since its discovery, has now been used on six medical practitioners, with two casualties and four survivors. These include two U.S. aid workers, three Liberian health care workers and a Spanish priest.
Frieden told the briefing that efforts to develop vaccines and treatments are welcome, but development takes time, and they cannot be counted on to stop the epidemic.
"We need action now to scale up the response. We know how to stop Ebola. The challenge is to scale it up to the massive levels needed to stop this outbreak," he said.
Giving a classical example of what he termed as being proactive, the CDC boss said swift response helped Firestone Rubber Plantation when an employee became infected.
The company, said Frieden, built isolation rooms and identified 73 contacts of the infected individual, then placed them in quarantine for 21 days. Eleven of those employees became ill, and they were treated in an isolated treatment ward the company built.
This effort, he said, completely contained the outbreak. That type of response is widely needed in the fight, he emphasized.
Frieden said the virus has not mutated in a way that makes it more transmittable, but the risk of such a mutation increases each day the virus circulates within human populations.
He further disclosed that during his Africa tour, he wore the same protective gear that local Ebola healthcare workers are wearing to protect themselves from the disease.
"It's roasting hot. It's very difficult to move. It's a very distressing environment. Sweat pours down into your goggles and into your eyes," he said.
Frieden appealed for healthcare workers and hospital administrators experienced in this type of work in low resource countries to volunteer their services through organizations such as the CDC Foundation and Doctors without Borders.
"The virus is moving faster than anyone anticipated. We need to move fast," he insisted.
In related development, on Tuesday, a second U.S. doctor was reported of having contracted the virus while working with an obstetrics patients at the ELWA hospital, a missionary hospital in Monrovia owned by the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM). Though the doctor is yet to be identified, yet SIM said he was not treating Ebola patients and that he isolated himself immediately when the symptoms began.