Experts in the medical community have given a stark warning to the world that the threat of ebola is escalating and could easily get out of control.
Doctors Without Borders, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) have spoken out at a United Nations conference on the deadly crisis.
Doctors Without Borders president Joanne Liu said medical staff were completely overwhelmed by the latest outbreak in West Aftrica, where the death toll has topped 1,500.
Dr Liu said: ‘Six months into the worst ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it. Ebola treatment centres are reduced to places where people go to die alone, where little more than palliative care is offered.’
At the same conference WHO director Margaret Chan urged countries that have provided support: ‘We need more from you. And we also need those countries that have not come on board.’
Dr Chan added ominously that the situation would get worse before it got better, with WHO estimatingas many as 20,000 could contract the virus before the outbreak is over.
CDC director Tom Frieden said that the spread of the virus made this outbreak the world’s first ebola epidemic.
On the day it was revealed that another American doctor has become infected with ebola in Liberia, it was also announced that British nurse William Pooley has been discharged from a London hospital, having received the experimental drug ZMapp to combat the disease he contracted in Sierra Leone.
Mr Pooley, 29, from Suffolk, praised the ‘world-class’ treatment he was given after being evacuated to the United Kingdom.
He was flown home by the RAF and cared for in a special unit at the Royal Free Hospital in north London.
The American doctor has not been named, but two other Americans who contracted the disease have recovered after receiving ZMapp.
The company that makes the drug says it has run out of stock, and it will take months to make more.
But experts say that the problem lies more with the spread of the disease, and the lack of understanding of ebola in infected areas.
In a video message released from the White House on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama urged West Africans not to handle the bodies of dying or dead victims.
Mr Obama said handling or touching the body of a dead loved one is a common practice in West African culture, but urged people top wear gloves and masks when exposed to ebola.
He added : ‘You can respect your traditions and honour your loved ones without risking the lives of the living.’
Ebola is spread through contact with sufferers’ body fluids – including sweat, blood, vomit, saliva, urine and faeces. It can also be contracted by eating the meat of infected animals.
Adding to the already desperate situation in affected areas, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that food is becoming scarce.
Farmers can’t reach their fields because of quarantine areas that have cordoned off entire towns, and surrounding countries have closed land borders, flights and shipping – restricting food imports to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.