WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- Senior officials from the World Health Organization were in Washington on Wednesday to discuss the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that has so far claimed more than 1,900 lives.
UPI listened in as U.N. senior leadership provided the latest updates on the situation in the affected countries and the objectives of WHO's new "Ebola Response Roadmap."
As of this week, WHO has recorded 3,500 cases of confirmed, probable and suspected Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
A separate outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is smaller and unrelated, says WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan, who cited "epidemiological evidence and virus sequencing that demonstrates this is an independent outbreak." Such a distinction, she says, is important to note because it shows the virus has not spread from West Africa to Central Africa.
The health agency hopes to stop the Ebola outbreak, which has been categorized as the largest in recorded history, in the next six to nine months.
"We know what to do. We know how to do it. But we do need to coordinate global efforts to deal with it," says Chan. "It has become a global threat," and in order to respond effectively, "we need a well coordinated effort."
While the U.N. has expressed appreciation for the United States' help combating the epidemic -- notably through support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Agency for International Development -- officials say more help is needed.
When asked to put a dollar figure on the cost of combating the Ebola outbreak, senior U.N. System Coordinator for Ebola Disease Dr. David Nabarro estimates it could total at least $600 million, but conceded "it may be a lot more."
WHO's Assistant Director-General for Health Security Dr. Keiji Fukuda and Nabarro recently returned from conducting a needs assessment in the affected countries.
Fukuda noted that while there is increasing comprehension that Ebola is a contagious disease, "what they don't understand is what to do."
Accurate information about Ebola, Nabarro underlines, is essential. This can be done by strengthening communication and messaging about the outbreak, and ensuring that those who are infected have access to medical care in order to control the infection. Once a person is diagnosed with Ebola, Nabarro said that contact tracing must be done to determine both the infection source and monitor those who came in contact with the infected person.
Both men met with government officials in the affected countries as well as with tribal and community leaders. In their conversations, Fukuda noted an overwhelming sense of isolation.
The impact of the outbreak has spread mistrust and fear, prompting air carriers to cancel flights and some countries to issue travel advisories. Such steps are not necessary, WHO points out, and exacerbates the sense of isolation felt by residents of affected countries and inhibits the ability of humanitarian and health care workers to gain access to the places they are most needed.
WHO unveiled an Ebola Response Roadmap on August 28 "to guide and coordinate the international response to the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa."
The Roadmap involves a number of international partners, including the African Union, African Development Bank, and World Bank. Because the outbreak is "a global threat that requires global coordination," Chan -- who led the development of the Roadmap -- urges international partners "to do more and to bring on board other countries that have not yet joined the effort."
"We can and and we will bring the Ebola epidemic under control," asserts Chan.