15 Aug 2014

Scale of Ebola 'vastly under-estimated'

10:59 pm on 15 August 2014

The United Nations' health agency says the scale of the Ebola outbreak in west Africa has been vastly under-estimated and extraordinary measures are needed to contain the disease.

As the official toll climbed to 1069 today, the United States ordered the evacuation of diplomats' families from Sierra Leone, one of the three countries at the epicentre of the outbreak along with Liberia and Guinea, AFP reports.

Sierra Leone is at the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak.

Sierra Leone is at the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak. Photo: AFP

The Geneva-based World Health Organisation said in a statement that it was co-ordinating "a massive scaling up of the international response".

It said staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak.

In Sierra Leone's parliament yesterday, the country's chief medical officer, Brima Kargbo, spoke of the difficulties health workers were facing in fighting the epidemic.

"We still have to break the chain of transmission to separate the infected from the uninfected," Dr Kargbo said. But, he added: "There is a rejection among people of the existence of Ebola and hostility towards health workers."

The disease has taken its toll on those trying to help its victims. Sierra Leone disclosed on Thursday that 32 nurses died from Ebola while performing their duties between 24 May to 12 August 13.

Rating agency Moodys said a serious outbreak in Lagos could severely disrupt the oil and gas industry in Nigeria if international companies are forced to evacuate staff and local operations are shut down.

Meanwhile, Nigeria's president Goodluck Jonathan has ordered the sacking of 16,000 hospital doctors.

The doctors are members of the Nigerian Medical Association, which has been on strike since July in protest at the Government's failure to honour earlier agreements, the BBC reports.

The Government says any gaps will be filled with locum doctors.

Athletes blocked from Youth Games

Some African athletes from nations affected by the Ebola virus are being blocked from competing at the Youth Olympics this weekend in China.

A team of 50 young New Zealand athletes arrived in Nanjing for the Games yesterday. Some countries have already pulled out.