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Decline in Ebola cases flattens, raising UN concern

THE recent steep drop in the number of Ebola cases has suddenly flattened out, raising " great concern," particularly in Guinea and Sierra Leone, the official leading the World Health Organization's (WHO) Ebola response said on Friday.

"One of the biggest risks we face right now is that new financing for this response is falling faster than the new cases. That's the reality," said Bruce Aylward, director-general for the Ebola Response, who along with David Nabarro, the secretary- general's special Ebola envoy, met reporters at UN Headquarters on the Ebola battle.

"This right now was one of the most worrying things I was seeing in the countries last week," said the official who was in Guinea and Sierra Leone last week. He named the two countries " where we are going to have our toughest challenges."

Aylward, holding up blue bar graphs indicating the decrease rate in new Ebola cases had leveled off, said: "The new money has fallen."

Nabarro said the United Nations has estimated 1.5 billion U.S. dollars were needed in 2015 to win the fight against Ebola but so far only around 600 million dollars have been raised for this year.

"We are deep into what we now refer to as Phase II of the Ebola Response," he said. "Phase I was when the disease was way ahead of the response capacity, (and) escalating."

The goal in phase I was to build infrastructure -- beds and burial teams -- to rapidly slow down the virus, he said. "Phase II was all about trying to move from that to zero" new cases.

"The first three to four weeks of 2015 ... was incredibly encouraging because of the rapid decline in cases that we saw," Aylword said. "We saw four weeks of week-on-week decline in cases. The story of the last four weeks has been different. Four weeks of relatively flat curve, frankly, where we're seeing about 120 cases to 150 cases a week. This is not what you want to see with Ebola."

"What he have here is an extremely dangerous pathogen present across three countries," he said.

Aylward credited the Phase I steep decline to the "beds and bearer teams," workers who carried the ill treatment centers and the dead to graves, while in Phase II, "contact tracing" plays a big role, he added..

"There's got to be community ownership," he said. "There's got to be case finding, contact tracing to get this thing down to zero. "

For the three most-affected West Africa nations, namely Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the big question is how will they recover from the blow Ebola inflicted on their economies.

"We need to be really clear, as long as the capitals of these countries have Ebola, such a hazardous pathogen, they can't recover, they can't fully develop," Aylward said. "We can't restart the economies; we can't get that kind of progress that's needed. As long as the virus is in those places, it can spread, it can escalate once again."

He said because there has been so much progress in the battle so far does not mean the trend will be for fewer and fewer cases of the disease.

"It doesn't have to go to zero," Aylward said. "It can go the other direction."

"There is absolutely no question at this point that we have the strategy to get Ebola finished," the director said. "There's also absolutely no question that the infrastructure is in place as a result of the tremendous success of the international and national response."

"But, we do not have the financing necessary to get from there, get to zero, and do that safely and to get the job finished," he said. 


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