Ebola toll passes 4,000 as fears grow worldwide

  • AFP, Madrid
  • Updated: Oct 16, 2014 15:55 IST

The death toll from Ebola has passed 4,000, the World Health Organization said on Friday, while a Madrid nurse was fighting for her life and authorities worldwide tried to prevent panic over the deadly disease spreading.

The WHO said 4,033 people have died from Ebola as of October 8 out of a total of 8,399 registered cases in seven countries. The sharp rise in deaths came as the UN said pledges of aid to fight the outbreak have fallen well short of the $1 billion needed.

Beyond west Africa, where almost all of the deaths have occurred, fears grew about the worst-ever Ebola epidemic.

From Australia to Zimbabwe, and Macedonia to Spain, people who showed signs of fever or had recent contact with Ebola victims were whisked into isolation units or ordered to stay in their homes.

False reports of infections forced Spanish police to call for calm, while in France some public buildings outside Paris were briefly closed after a scare.

Authorities warned that hoaxes could trigger panic as a man was taken off a US flight by a bio-hazard team after he sneezed and reportedly said, "I have Ebola. You are all screwed."

Serious concerns remained in Spain over how the virus could have spread in the country's main isolation hospital.

Healthcare workers told AFP the quarantine floor of Carlos III hospital in Madrid was shut last year as a result of spending cuts and only re-opened for two missionaries who were flown back with the disease in August.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy visited the hospital where 44-year-old nurse Teresa Romero was infected, and where she was in a "stable but serious" condition on Friday.

Doctors there took in seven more patients for observation late Thursday, while Madrid's regional leader said Romero, who caught the haemorrhagic fever while caring for the missionaries, was at "serious risk" of dying.

Her husband and 12 other people, most of them medical staff, were also under observation, though a male nurse had been discharged, the hospital said.

Ebola staff 'stressed'

In a sign of the stress at the hospital, where the media are camped out, some staff did not show up for work on Friday.

"There are fewer staff signing up to help," said one nurse caring for Romero, Charly Manuel Torres, referring to voluntary extra cover at the hospital.

"We are very stressed. We are working under a lot of pressure."

The United Nations and leaders of the Ebola-stricken nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone pleaded for greater help for the frontline of the disease in Africa.

UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson said only a quarter of "the one billion dollars sought" to combat the disease had been pledged. He also appealed for doctors, nurses and other health care personnel to come forward to work in desperately needed treatment centres in west Africa.

In Liberia, where the official death toll was put at 2,316 by the WHO on Friday, the government said it had banned journalists from Ebola clinics, arguing it was to protect patients' privacy.

The move came as nurses at the largest government Ebola clinic in the capital Monrovia staged a "go slow" to demand hazard pay, defying a request by UN health officials to avoid industrial action during the crisis.

Alerts abound

In France a public building was briefly evacuated in a Paris suburb on Thursday when an African man felt ill. Earlier, the arrival of a group of schoolchildren from Guinea had sparked panic at a French school. Ebola was ruled out in both cases.

In other Ebola alerts, Macedonia quarantined people who had come into contact with a Briton who died on Thursday after exhibiting Ebola-like symptoms.

Australia said it had tested 11 people including a Red Cross nurse returned from Sierra Leone, while a 47-year-old Guinean suspected of having the disease was hospitalised in Brazil.

The US, Canada and Britain boosted screening at major airports, while a team in protective gear was sent aboard a US Airways flight headed from Philadelphia to the Dominican Republic after a man on board reportedly said he had Ebola.

Prevent the next 'AIDS'

Ebola's spillover into the United States and Europe has raised fears of a wider outbreak.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted the number of cases could mount to 1.4 million by January unless strong measures are taken to contain the disease.

At the annual meeting in Washington of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on Thursday, African, US and UN officials pleaded with donor nations to step up aid.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said resources to support the fight must be increased 20-fold.

"Cases are growing exponentially," Ban said. "Do not wait for consultation. Just take action."

"We have to work now so that it is not the world's next AIDS," CDC Director Tom Frieden warned at the meeting.

"I would say that in the 30 years I've been working in public health, the only thing like this has been AIDS," he said, adding that there was a "long fight" ahead.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, speaking via video link from Monrovia, said support should include "compensation to healthcare workers who, for fear of the risk involved, have refused or are reluctant to return to work".

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