NEW YORK – The devastating Ebola virus should not be characterized as an “African disease,” the director-general of the World Health Organization told reporters Wednesday.
Dr. Margaret Chan, speaking in a teleconference hosted by the U.N. Foundation in Washington, D.C., explained that any stigmatization of the disease suggesting a racial classification would be detrimental to United Nations effort to control the outbreak.
“The current Ebola outbreak is the largest, most severe, and most complex outbreak of Ebola we have seen since the first outbreak of the disease 14 years ago,” Chan said.
More than 1,500 people in West Africa have died during the outbreak.
Dr. David Nabarro, senior U.N. system coordinator for the Ebola outbreak, said a true understanding of the disease in the affected nations was essential to controlling it. He emphasized the importance of stopping African traditional cultural practices of touching and washing the corpse before burial. The U.N. has identified the practice as major transmitter of the disease in West Africa.
Nabarro also explained “a serious economic downturn” was now likely in the affected West African nations as a direct result of Ebola. He said it would complicate international efforts to control and contain the disease.
Chan asserted commercial airline travel to the affected West African countries was essential to the U.N. relief effort to get physicians and medical supplies to the region to combat the outbreak. She insisted airline travel would be safe as long as rigorous passenger screening removed anyone showing Ebola symptoms.
Chan did not mention, however, the problem arising from Ebola’s 21-day incubation, which would allow some infected people who don’t show symptoms yet to travel.
WND reported WHO officials in Geneva have argued that destination countries generally have adequate health facilities to treat an Ebola case and to track those the sick person may have infected by contact after arriving.
In the teleconference Wednesday, the WHO said several thousand health workers would need to be recruited to the affected West African countries if the international effort to control and contain the Ebola outbreak was to have any chance of succeeding.
The WHO officials said the U.N. has no intention to militarize its response by sending peacekeepers to the region.
“We are supporting national leaders in this effort to combat Ebola in West Africa,” Chan said. “No government I know about would accept a United Nations takeover of their national effort to provide assistance here.”
Nabarro said the U.N. is “trying to build a global coalition of health response efforts.”
Meanwhile, the White House posted a video Tuesday in which President Obama urged West Africans caring for Ebola patients or burying victims to wear gloves and masks. He also discouraged the cultural practices of touching and washing the corpse before burial.
“You can respect your traditions and honor your loved ones without risking the lives of the living,” Obama said. “Stopping this disease won’t be easy, but we know how to do it.”