Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tide Is Turning in Ebola Fight; Lessons Are Slow to Sink in and May Not Effect Change, Experts Warn

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tide Is Turning in Ebola Fight; Lessons Are Slow to Sink in and May Not Effect Change, Experts Warn

Article excerpt

DAKAR, Senegal * A top U.N. official in the fight against Ebola greeted just three patients at one treatment center he visited last week in Sierra Leone. Families in Liberia are no longer required to cremate the remains of loved ones to halt the spread of the virulent disease.

And in the streets of Guinea's capital, it is rare to see the formerly ubiquitous plastic buckets of bleach and water for hand- washing.

Ten months after it dawned on health officials that they were facing an unprecedented Ebola outbreak in West Africa, experts and officials agree the tide is turning, although previous lulls have proved short-lived.

There is still no vaccine or licensed treatment, nor is it clear whether the world at large has actually learned any lessons from an epidemic that killed at least 8,675 people.

"Things have changed drastically for the better no one can deny that," said Aitor Sanchez Lacomba, Liberia country director for the International Rescue Committee. "How can we make sure that we don't have these kinds of situations in the future?"

Previous disease outbreaks, including SARS and bird flu, prompted calls to build strong health surveillance systems and to reinforce agencies such as the World Health Organization. But little has changed.

After the 2009 swine flu pandemic, WHO commissioned an independent review, which recommended establishing a $100 million emergency fund for health crises and beefing up rapid-response health experts. Neither has been done.

"The epidemic has turned," Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the new head of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response known as UNMEER, recently declared.

The number of cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone is at its lowest since August, and in Liberia it's the lowest since June.

Still, he and other officials caution that they lack critical information about the cases that do remain. Only about half of new cases in Guinea and Liberia are from known contacts; the remainder are infections from unknown sources.

"There are still numbers of new cases that are alarming, and there are hot spots that are emerging in new places that make me believe there is still quite a lot of the disease that we're not seeing," said Dr. …

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