(Adds details on external support, lessons to be learned,
By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS Jan 15 An outbreak of Ebola that
has claimed more than 8,400 lives in West Africa appears to be
slowing down, though the battle to contain the disease is not
over, the U.N. special envoy on Ebola said on Thursday.
"The change in behavior that we've been hoping for, working
for, anticipating, is now happening everywhere," Dr. David
Nabarro told Reuters in an interview.
"The facilities to treat people are available everywhere,"
he said. "Safe burial teams are providing safe and dignified
burial services everywhere and the result is that we're seeing
the beginnings of the outbreak slowing down."
Nabarro declined to predict when the outbreak of the virus
could be definitively over.
The hemorrhagic fever is spread through contact with bodily
fluids of infected people or the highly contagious body of
someone who has died of the virus. Nabarro said burial practices
that involved people touching and cleaning bodies of Ebola
victims had helped fuel the outbreak.
The worst Ebola outbreak on record infected about 21,200
people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since it was detected
in March, according to the World Health Organization.
The government of Liberia said earlier on Thursday that it
could be free of the virus by the end of next month after
success in curbing transmission. It said the country had only 10
confirmed Ebola cases as of Jan. 12.
"It's an incredible drop," Nabarro said, adding that he
believed the Liberian figures were "absolutely correct." Nabarro
described "a remarkable collective change in patterns of
behavior" and said Liberia had "come to terms with the reality
that the outbreak of Ebola is being driven by the way in which
More than 3,500 of the 8,400 dead were from Liberia.
Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea now have capacity to
quickly set up mobile centers to handle localized outbreaks.
"Those who are involved in the response have worked out that
they can organize rapid mobile responses in case there's a flare
up anywhere, so they can set up small temporary treatment
facilities wherever they are needed," Nabarro said.
He said the U.S., British and French military, which built
treatment centers, had played a crucial role.
"This external help was absolutely vital in bolstering and
supporting the capacity of the people in the country to make the
changes," Nabarro said, adding that "much of the external help
came from within Africa."
Asked about lessons to be taken and suggestions that the WHO
had been slow in sounding an alarm about Ebola, Nabarro said: "I
hope that the result of this epidemic and the investigations
done ... will better enable us to work out the way in which to
predict" an outbreak.
(Editing by Grant McCool)