CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — A U.S. official touring the West African countries worst hit by the deadly Ebola virus expressed optimism Wednesday that the right strategies to fight the disease are in place, even as warnings mount over the deteriorating situation.
The World Health Organization warned that new cases are appearing at a rapid rate in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, though Nigeria and Senegal, which saw just a handful of cases are on the verge of being declared Ebola free.
The leaders of the affected countries are clearly committed to fighting the disease and with international help are taking the right approaches to stop the transmission of the virus, said the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development Rajiv Shah.
"The thing I learned is that the strategy is clear, the partners are aligned and now we have to focus on accelerating implementation and every day is a race to do more and get on top of the transmission," he told The Associated Press from the airport as he was leaving Sierra Leone and heading to Guinea.
The struggle against the deadly virus which is transmitted by bodily fluids and has infected nearly 9,000 people — killing almost 4,500 — is largely a matter of having adequate care in place to treat the sick and dispose of the bodies.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been pledged by the international community in recent weeks to build the treatment centers and put in place the burial and sanitation teams to stop the disease, said Shah.
During his trip he announced an additional $142 million from the U.S. to build and staff treatment centers.
The crisis of these impoverished countries' overstretched health care systems was thrown into sharp relief by an appeal late Tuesday from Guinean President Alpha Conde to retired doctors in the country to join the fight against the disease.
While not dealing with as many cases as its neighbors, the disease has started to spread rapidly in recent days in Guinea according to the WHO, citing a spike in new cases in the capital Conakry and the nearby district of Coyah.
Ebola has already infected 76 doctors there, killing 37 of them and striking fear into the heart of the profession.
According to Dr. Ibrahima Balde who works at a hospital in Coya, just the suspicion of new case was enough to cause all the health workers to flee his hospital.
Many have cited the lack of adequate safety precautions and protective equipment — precisely what international donors are attempting to get into the countries and especially to remote regions.
"I heard the call of the president, but first he must properly equip the hospitals before asking us to come," said one retired Guinean doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. "I've lost many doctor friends who believed in the miracle of curing without equipment and they paid with their lives."
There have, however, been doctors in Guinea who have come out of retirement and heeded the president's request.
Cellou Balde, a medical researcher and epidemiologist told The Associated Press that he was ready to follow the president's call.
"This morning, I presented myself and I volunteered," he said. "I know I'm playing with fire but when my country calls, I can only respond."
Guinea has seen 1,472 infected with the virus and 843 dead, according to the latest figures from WHO.
Health professionals across the affected countries have complained about a lack of safety equipment to protect them while working on Ebola patients.
A German aircraft landed in Accra, Ghana, on Wednesday to receive humanitarian supplies and equipment that will be flown to Sierra Leone and Guinea later in the week, Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, told reporters. The cargo includes high-energy biscuits and equipment to set up the logistics chain for future deliveries.
A World Food Program flight was en route to Liberia carrying 58 metric tons of supplies including water tanks, washing units and generators, Haq said.
And in Liberia, at the request of the government and the World Health Organization, WFP is helping with the construction of four Ebola treatment units in Monrovia with a total of 400 beds. Construction of two of the centers is expected to be completed by this weekend, Haq said.
Schemm reported from Rabat, Morocco. Associated Press writer Cara Anna contributed to this report from the United Nations.