FREETOWN- The deadliest Ebola outbreak ever is finally slowing in Liberia, the worst-hit country, but still wreaking havoc in two neighbouring west African states amid warnings of thousands of unreported deaths.
As the initially lacklustre global response to the crisis centred in Liberia and adjoining Sierra Leone and Guinea gathered some pace following repeated and impassioned appeals from top UN officials and world leaders, the good news from Liberia was tempered by warnings that the global toll is likely vastly underestimated.
The outbreak is officially thought to have claimed 4,960 lives and infected 13,042 people, according to the latest data issued by the World Health Organization. But that could be the tip of the iceberg, an official at the UN health agency said.
“There are lots of missing deaths in this epidemic,” Christopher Dye, WHO’s strategy chief, told AFP, estimating that around 5,000 fatalities could be missing from the count.
This assessment, he said, was based on the knowledge that the fatality rate in the epidemic stands at about 70 percent.
Dye said the likely explanation was that many people were burying the dead in secret, possibly to avoid having authorities interfere with burial customs like washing and touching the deceased widely blamed for much of the transmission.
Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma pressed the point in a meeting this week with lawmakers well as tribal and religious chiefs.
“You must enforce the law and take out the sick,” he said, referring to a ban on traditional mourning rites with involve contact with corpses.
“This is time for action and you must stop the hypocrisy in the fight against Ebola,” added Koroma, whose country has recorded 1,070 deaths from the disease and 4,759 cases.