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Crisis talks held as Ebola outbreak continues to spread in Africa

"This is not a unique situation, we have faced it many times," Keiji Fukuda added. "And so I am quite confident that we can handle this."

By Brooks Hays
Crisis talks held as Ebola outbreak continues to spread in Africa
Field workers in Uganda test Ebola virus samples. (Justin Williams/CDC)

ACCRA, Ghana, July 2 (UPI) -- Officials from the World Health Organization, as well as health ministers from 11 African nations, convened Wednesday in the Ghanaian capital of Accra as part of an emergency meeting to discuss how to prevent the continent's frightening Ebola outbreak from spreading further.

So far, the virus has infected more than 750 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone; as of last count, 467 had died from the viral infection.

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"This makes the ongoing Ebola outbreak the largest in terms of the number of cases and deaths as well as geographical spread," WHO said in a statement announcing the two-day meeting.

Although the meetings are an attempt to field new ideas and solve problems with response efforts, it was also an attempt by WHO officials to instill confidence in local authorities.

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"There are so many diseases that we have to deal with for which we don't have optimal tools," said Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security at the WHO. "Nonetheless we have really learnt that these kinds of outbreaks, these diseases can be stopped."

"This is not a unique situation, we have faced it many times," Fukuda added. "And so I am quite confident that we can handle this."

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Meanwhile, international aid organization Red Cross claimed it had been forced to momentarily suspend its emergency response operations in Guinea after health workers there were threatened by a group of men armed with knives. It's one in a string of violent incidents against aid providers.

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Tensions between remote, insular communities and international health workers are one of several hurdles preventing a more fluid and effective response to the epidemic.

Distrustful of foreign doctors and aid workers, faith healers and traditional doctors in some communities have been observed removing Ebola patients from hospitals for prayer sessions and traditional medicine.

In a recent op-ed for National Geographic, Dick Thompson, a former communications official at WHO, writes that superstition and distrust have allowed the disease to spread.

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"Community life is disrupted when health workers suddenly appear, dressed in what appear to be space suits," Thompson argues. "And these communities often already have a deep-seated suspicion of outsiders."

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