Sept. 2, 2014 -- The director of the CDC, just back from a week-long tour of three countries hard-hit by Ebola, painted a dire picture of the epidemic and called for more help to stop it.
“Bad as the situation is now, everything I’ve seen suggests that over the next few weeks it’s likely to get worse. We’re likely to see significant increases in cases,” Tom Frieden, MD, told reporters in a press briefing.
“For every day that this continues to spread in West Africa, the likelihood of someone getting infected and getting sick elsewhere increases,” he said, noting the virus recently spread to Senegal.
Frieden’s remarks came as the missionary organization SIM USA announced an American doctor working at its mission hospital in Liberia had caught the virus. The doctor, who was not identified, is doing well and is in good spirits, SIM said in a statement. He is being treated in an Ebola isolation unit at the ELWA Hospital in Liberia.
The doctor was treating obstetrical patients in a facility that was separate from the Ebola isolation unit. It's not known how he got infected.
He is the third American to have caught Ebola in West Africa. The other two, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, were released from Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital last month after being treated in its isolation ward.
Call to Act Fast
Frieden said there’s a window for stopping the epidemic that’s swiftly closing. He called on Americans and the rest of the world to act quickly.
The virus is now spreading widely in Liberia, he said, and the outbreak is outpacing efforts to stop it in Sierra Leone. There are signs that cases are surging again in Guinea, where the outbreak was thought to be contained.
The needs are basic, he said, yet urgent. One 35-bed isolation unit he toured was treating 63 patients, many of them sleeping on the floor.
The need for medical workers is so great that for the first time, the CDC is sending its own employees for specialized training in how to approach and treat those who are sick with the virus. The agency’s doctors don’t normally handle direct patient care.
Last week, three CDC staff members went to Brussels, Belgium, for specialized training from MSF, the organization that’s running several Ebola isolation wards in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. The agency hopes to be able to send more staff for training in the near future.
Frieden called on the world to supply more resources, more technical expertise, and a more global, unified approach to containing the virus’s spread.
“As long as Ebola is spreading anywhere, all of us need to be concerned,” he said. He challenged people in the public and private sectors to think about ways to get involved and do whatever might be possible to help.
In particular, he made a clear and direct appeal to any health care workers who are used to working in challenging circumstances.
“Not only doctors and nurses, but people who know how to run a health care facility in low-income countries and austere environments. Contact an organization like MSF [Doctors Without Borders] or other groups that are involved, and see if you can be of assistance,” he said.
He said volunteers should be prepared to make at least a 3-month commitment to the work.
“We are all in this together. We’re in an interconnected world. We can stop worrying about it here when it is controlled there,” Frieden said.