By Dennis Thompson
THURSDAY, Oct. 30, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The World Bank pledged Thursday an additional $100 million in the fight against the Ebola outbreak wreaking havoc in West Africa.
The money, which brings the World Bank's total pledge to more than $500 million, will be used to attract more foreign health care workers to the three hardest-hit countries -- Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
"The world's response to the Ebola crisis has increased significantly in recent weeks, but we still have a huge gap in getting enough trained health workers to the areas with the highest infection rates," World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said in a news release. "We must urgently find ways to break any barriers to the deployment of more health workers. It is our hope that this $100 million can help be a catalyst for a rapid surge of health workers to the communities in dire need."
The World Health Organization (WHO) says an estimated 5,000 international medical and support personnel are needed in the three countries in the coming months. In some cases, health care workers in the three countries are reluctant to treat Ebola patients because they lack adequate protection.
There have been an estimated 13,700 infections and about 5,000 deaths in West Africa.
The World Bank has warned that if the epidemic continues unchecked, the financial toll to the region could hit $32.6 billion by the end of 2015.
There has been a bit of encouraging news in recent days, however.
WHO officials said Wednesday that the outbreak in Liberia may be slowing.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO's assistant director general, said there's been a decline in the number of burials in Liberia and no increase in laboratory-confirmed cases. He said he was cautiously optimistic that the global push to tame the epidemic may be making some progress, The New York Times reported.
"Do we feel confident that the response is now getting an upper hand on the virus?" he said in a telebriefing with reporters from the organization's Geneva, Switzerland, headquarters. "Yes, we are seeing slowing rate of new cases, very definitely" in Liberia.
Aylward cautioned against assuming that health care workers had turned the tide against Ebola in Liberia, where more than half of West Africa's infections have occurred. Ebola cases could surge again, as has happened since the epidemic began last spring.
Meanwhile, health officials in Sierra Leone said late Wednesday that the country remains "in a crisis situation which is going to get worse," the Associated Press reported.