WHO predicts Ebola cases may top 20,000

Aug. 29, 2014

“This far outstrips any historic Ebola outbreak.” So said Bruce Aylward, MD, assistant director for emergency operations for the World Health Organization (WHO). Speaking to reporters about a new “roadmap” to stop the epidemic in west Africa, he added, “The largest outbreak in the past was about 400 cases….What we are seeing today, in contrast to previous Ebola outbreaks, [is] multiple hotspots within these countries—not a single, remote, forested area, the kind of environments that have been tackled in the past. And then not multiple hotspots within one country, but international disease.”

The numbers back up Dr. Aylward’s assertion that the WHO and other organizations battling the spread of Ebola hemorrhagic fever are facing an unprecedented situation. The official number of cases counted so far is 3,069, with 1,552 deaths—but it is widely believed that the actual number is much higher, perhaps two to four times higher. And WHO officials say the number could eventually exceed 20,000 cases.

The broad outlines of the new WHO plan reflect the magnitude of the crisis. It earmarks $489 million for epidemic-fighting activities over nine months, and requires some 750 international workers, along with 12, 000 workers in the affected nations. The first goal, Aylward says, is to “take the heat out of this outbreak” during the next three months; that would enable the WHO to then use classic strategies of infection containment effectively.

“The outbreak continues to accelerate,” the WHO says. Forty percent of the cases have been identified within the last three weeks, indicating a distinctly worsening situation. Learn more about the situation on the ground and WHO strategies in a CBS News report.

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