The world’s worst outbreak of Ebola that has killed nearly 1,000 people in West Africa represents an international health emergency and could continue spreading for months, the World Health Organization said on Friday.
Nigeria became the third African nation, after Sierra Leone and Liberia, to declare a national emergency on Friday as the region’s healthcare systems struggle to cope with the advance of one of the deadliest diseases known to man.
“The outbreak is moving faster than we can control it,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told reporters on a telephone briefing from her Geneva headquarters.
The U.N. agency said all states where Ebola had passed from one person to another should declare a national emergency. It called the outbreak “particularly serious” but said there should be no general ban on international travel or trade.
“The declaration … will galvanise the attention of leaders of all countries at the top level. It cannot be done by the ministries of health alone,” Chan said.
In Nigeria, which has confirmed seven cases of Ebola since a man fell sick on arrival from Liberia, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a national state of emergency and approved 1.9 billion naira ($11.7 million) of emergency funds to combat the virus.
The WHO has been accused of failing to respond fast enough to the outbreak, which it said on May 18 could be declared over by May 22. It has since become more conservative in its predictions, said head of health security, Keiji Fukuda.
“At that point we thought that it was likely that it would come under control based on our experience. This outbreak has developed in ways we have not seen before,” Fukuda told reporters.
“The likelihood is that things will get worse before they get better,” he said, adding that the WHO is prepared for an outbreak that persists at a high level for months.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the declaration showed WHO’s seriousness in tackling the outbreak but added that statements should be translated into action.
“For weeks, MSF has been repeating that a massive medical, epidemiological and public health response is desperately needed to saves lives,” said MSF Director of Operations Bart Janssens.
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