In a briefing today, CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, reported on his visits last week to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and called for immediate steps across nations to accelerate response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Frieden described a daunting situation and called for speed, flexibility and work on the front lines to take precedence.
The United States has stepped up assistance to the affected countries and to international organizations responding to the outbreak. Multiple U.S. agencies have been involved in the response to the crisis, including the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Defense (DOD).
Since the CDC ramped up its Ebola response in early July, more than 500 CDC staff members have provided logistics, staffing, communication, analytics, management, and other support functions. As of September 2, roughly 100 U.S. government personnel have been deployed and are working in the affected countries responding to the outbreak, this includes more than 70 CDC staff deployed in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone assisting with various vital response efforts such as surveillance, contact tracing, database management, and health education.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has committed more than $21 million for the response since the outbreak was first reported in March 2014. This funding is being used to provide health equipment and emergency supplies, food assistance, train and support healthcare workers on infection control and case management, support public outreach campaigns, and build the capacity of local health care and emergency response systems. On August 23, a charter flight funded by USAID and UNICEF brought in more than 40 tons of chlorine and 400-thousand pairs of medical gloves into Monrovia. On August 24, USAID airlifted more than 16 tons of medical supplies and emergency equipment to Monrovia, Liberia.
“What I saw was a continuing need to strengthen the health care system by increasing the number of treatment centers, providers, access to supplies; as well as a need to improve clinical management by handwashing, infection control, and other methods,” says Frieden. “I went to a new ward that opened with 35 beds – and in less than a week they had 63 patients, many lying on the floor. There is a need for data to better trace where Ebola is beginning to spread. And there is a basic need for infrastructure like trucks, jeeps and motorcycles. Perhaps most importantly, there is need for a functional emergency operations center at either the national or the district levels directing an efficient response.”
While in West Africa, Frieden saw firsthand the hard work being done by CDC experts deployed to the region – and the extraordinary efforts of the local residents who are the foot soldiers in the Ebola battle. CDC is assisting the World Health Organization with setting up an emergency response structure, conducting Ebola surveillance and contact tracing, providing advice on exit screening and infection control at airports, and providing training and education in the affected countries.
“I am particularly impressed with the dedication and heroism of the people of West Africa who care for the sick, spread the word about how to prevent Ebola, clean contaminated areas, bury the dead, and welcome survivors back into their homes and communities,” Frieden says.
The U.S. government will continue to provide materials, experts and leadership to this epidemic response. Frieden called on all the world’s nations to join the United States in meeting the World Health Organization appeal for $490 million in support.
“I wish every world leader could see what I have seen. Stopping this outbreak is more than any one nation can do,” Frieden says. “The sooner the world comes together to help West Africans the safer we all will be.”
The official case count and death toll in the current outbreak exceeds cases and deaths from all previous Ebola outbreaks combined. Yet these official numbers greatly underestimate the actual numbers of cases and deaths and do not adequately describe the outbreak’s toll in human lives, health care and societal disruption, and economic loss.
“The window of opportunity to stop Ebola from spreading widely throughout Africa and becoming a global threat for years to come is closing, but it is not yet closed,” Frieden says. “If the world takes the immediate steps– which are direct requests from the front lines of the outbreak and the Presidents of each country – we can still turn this around.”