The outbreak of Ebola fever in West Africa is, by some accounts, the most serious for several years. Ninety percent of those infected with the disease will die. Today, a senior government official in Ghana said that a US citizen in the country is being tested for Ebola after visits to Guinea and Sierra Leone in the past few weeks. 

Asked if he fears that the virus could spread to other countries, Dr Krishnan told VoR: "There are three key things to note: there are three countries affected, it has claimed more than 480 lives; and it is no longer limited to small rural pockets from where people don't often travel outside much - cases and deaths have been reported even in big towns."

The disease is spread through any exchange of fluids between the carrier and new person, and the incubation is between two and 21 days, making it very difficult for the virus to be detected as people are moving from country to country.

He points out that we are talking about countries with scant resources to tackle the issue, and "we need a much more coordinated global response."

Isn't it alarmist to call it a 'global health crisis'?

"It's true that it hasn't left Africa in the past," he says, "and there's never been a situation where multiple countries with this many numbers have been affected. So this should serve as a wake-up call so that we take precautionary measures and contain the outbreak.

"Until now, there's been a gross misjudgment in gauging the severity of the disease and its outbreak. Time is running out, we must act now."

Ebola: Is the virus attracting the wrong kind of attention?

Doctors warn of undetected cases

Many cases of Ebola in Sierra Leona may be going undetected, grassroots doctors warned in The Lancet on Saturday as they highlighted the impoverished country's problems in combatting the virus.

The journal published the letter on the heels of ministerial talks in Ghana, where a senior UN health official said the outbreak in West Africa, the worst in the history of Ebola, may persist for several more months.

Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, suffers a chronic lack of doctors, diagnostic tools, a disease-monitoring network and even clothing to protect health workers, the letter said.

"Many cases meeting the case definition for suspected Ebola might be going undetected and unreported because ill people and their families are opting for self-treatment with over-the-counter drugs or traditional medicine," it said.

The letter observed that early attempts to impose controls against the disease, by restrictions of border crossings and of sales of bushmeat had not worked -- and indeed may have backfired.

"What is certain is that these policies (and the ways that they were communicated) raised anxiety and, in some places, fuelled rumours that led to counter-productive behaviours."

The World Health Organization (WHO) gives a toll of 467 fatalities from Ebola, a total comprising confirmed or suspected cases. Ninety-nine have occurred in Sierra Leone.

Keiji Fukuda, the UN agency's assistant director-general of health security, said at the close of the 12-nation conference in Accra on Thursday it was "impossible to give a clear answer" on how far the epidemic could spread or when it might begin to retreat.

(VoR, AFP)