(Adds comments from WHO director in HAVANA)
DAKAR/HAVANA, July 15 The death toll from the
world's worst ever Ebola outbreak in West Africa has risen to
603 since February, with at least 68 deaths reported from three
countries in the region in the last week alone, the World Health
Organisation said on Tuesday.
WHO said there were 85 new cases between July 8-12,
highlighting continued high levels of transmission.
International and local medics were struggling to get access to
communities as many people feared outsiders were spreading
rather than fighting Ebola.
"It's very difficult for us to get into communities where
there is hostility to outsiders," WHO spokesman Dan Epstein told
a news briefing in Geneva. "We still face rumours, and suspicion
and hostility ... People are isolated, they're afraid, they're
Sierra Leone recorded the highest number of deaths, which
include confirmed, probable and suspect cases of Ebola, with 52.
Liberia reported 13 and Guinea 3, according to the WHO figures.
Epstein said the main focus in the three countries is
tracing people who have been exposed to others with Ebola and
monitoring them for the 21-day incubation period to see if they
"It's probably going to be several months before we are able
to get a grip on this epidemic," Epstein added.
Ebola causes fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea and was
first detected in then Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo,
in the mid-1970s. Spread through contact with blood and body
fluids of infected people or animals, it is one of the world's
deadliest viruses, killing up to 90 percent of those infected.
Speaking from Havana, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan
called the outbreak the world's worst ever by number of cases,
saying, "The situation is serious but not out of control yet."
The WHO was mobilising political, religious and local
leaders in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to create a better
welcome for medical professionals attempting to treat victims,
Chan said, while also coordinating responses from the three
affected countries and eight neighbours that have experienced
"Sometimes the challenge for us is countries like to do
disease control their way. But I think this is one such
situation where countries must come together and adopt a similar
approach to deal with a very dangerous disease," Chan said.
The organization was also consulting with anthropologies to
help suspend local customs such as eating bush meat or hugging
and kissing Ebola victims at their funerals, which can transmit
the disease, Chan said.
The outbreak started in Guinea's remote southeast but has
spread across the region's porous borders despite aid workers
scrambling to help some of the world's weakest health systems
tackle a deadly, infectious disease.
In Sierra Leone and Guinea, experts believe scores of
patients are being hidden as relatives and friends believe
hospitalisation is a "death sentence". In Liberia, health
workers have been chased away by armed gangs.
(Reporting by David Lewis and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bate
Felix, Ralph Boulton and Bernard Orr)