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Ebola outpacing control efforts, warns WHO

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Adam Nossiter and Alan Cowell

A UNICEF worker holds a poster bearing information to help prevent the spread of Ebola in Conakry.

A UNICEF worker holds a poster bearing information to help prevent the spread of Ebola in Conakry. Photo: Reuters

Abuja, Nigeria: In an ominous warning as fatalities mount in West Africa from the worst known outbreak of the Ebola virus, the head of the World Health Organisation says the disease is moving faster than efforts to curb it, with potentially catastrophic consequences, including a "high risk" that it will spread.

The assessment was among the most dire since the outbreak was identified in March. The outbreak has been blamed for the deaths of 729 people, according to WHO figures, and left more than 1300 people with confirmed or suspected infections.

WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan was speaking as she met leaders of the three most affected countries - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - in Conakry, the Guinean capital, for the introduction of a $100 million plan to deploy hundreds more medical professionals in support of overstretched regional and international health workers.

"This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response," Dr Chan said on Friday, according to a WHO transcript of her remarks. "If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives, but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries."

She said the outbreak was "caused by the most lethal strain in the family of Ebola viruses".

The gathering in Conakry came a day after West African leaders seemed to quicken the pace of efforts to combat the disease in what some analysts depicted as a belated acknowledgment that the response had been inadequate.

Before the meeting started, there were indications of discord. The leader of Guinea's Ebola task force said emergency measures in Liberia, where schools had been closed, and Sierra Leone, could set back efforts to control the worst outbreak of the virus since it was identified almost four decades ago.

"Some measures taken by our neighbours could make the fight against Ebola even harder," Aboubacar Sidiki Diakite, the Ebola taskforce leader, said.

"When children are not supervised, they can go anywhere and make the problem worse. It is part of what we will be talking about."

Sierra Leone's emergency measures include house-to-house searches for infected people and the deployment of the army and the police.

Making matters worse, health workers have been hit particularly hard. Top doctors in Sierra Leone and Liberia have died, and two American aid workers have contracted Ebola and will be flown back to the United States for further treatment at Emory University in Atlanta.

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