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WHO Focus on Ebola Shifts to Ending Outbreak

by VOA News January 29, 2015

The World Health Organization said Thursday that efforts to slow the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola have shifted to a focus on ending the epidemic, after the number of new cases fell to its lowest weekly level since the end of June.

A total of 99 new cases were reported last week in the most affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to WHO figures.

Sierra Leone saw a huge reduction with 65 new cases last week, compared to 117 the week before and 184 three weeks ago.

In Liberia, where the Ebola outbreak peaked much earlier, there were four new cases last week, down from a high of 300 per week in August and September.

The WHO said in the new 'second phase' of their response, officials will stop working to rapidly build facilities and focus instead on efforts to find infected people, manage their cases, engage with communities and ensure proper burials.

While the Ebola epidemic is decreasing, U.N. Ebola coordinator David Nabarro warned Thursday that the disease is still present in a third of the areas of the three worst affected west African nations.

'The number of cases is decreasing week by week and getting to zero in many places ... but we still see occasional flare-ups and we still see some surprises with new cases out of our contact lists,' Nabarro told the French news agency AFP.

'That means that the epidemic is not contained yet,' he said, adding that the upcoming rainy season is cause for concern.

'Dangerous situation'

Dr. Bruce Aylward, who is leading WHO's Ebola response, sounded a similar warning.

'This is like being in bed with two cobras, and one of them is dead,' Aylward told The Associated Press. 'You still have an incredibly dangerous situation.' He added that Ebola outbreaks often come in waves.

Speaking at a WHO Ebola meeting last Sunday, Jerome Oberreit, secretary general of Doctors Without Borders, said there is virtually no sharing of Ebola information about the risks of cases crossing the borders among the three countries in West Africa.

Oberreit said surveillance teams lack even basic resources to track down Ebola patients and blamed 'international negligence' for the inability to contain the outbreak.

The U.N.'s Nabarro said there were key lessons from the response to Ebola, and said a proposal to set up an African equivalent to the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would be a step forward.

'I took us too long to be ready, we need a better response capacity,' he said. An 'African CDC will allow the AU [African Union] to be much quicker.'

The 54-member African Union will meet in Ethiopia on Friday and Saturday and are set to discuss the economic recovery of countries affected by Ebola, as well as the setting up a 'solidarity fund' and planning the CDC center, which in its initial phase would operate as an 'early warning system.'

Through January 25, there were more than 22,000 total suspected and confirmed cases since the outbreak began in late 2013. About 8,800 people have died.

Some material for this report came from AP and AFP.

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