The window of opportunity for controlling Ebola is closing, CDC director Thomas Frieden says.
The world is allowing the Ebola outbreak to spin out of control, according to a leading humanitarian group helping to treat patients in West Africa.
In a separate speech, the USA's top public health official also called on global leaders to do far more to control the Ebola outbreak that has now spread to five countries.
"I could not possibly overstate the need for an emergency response," said Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who just returned from visiting Ebola treatment centers in West Africa. "There is a window of opportunity to tamp this down, but that window is closing. ... We need action now."
Separately, the missionary group SIM USA announced Tuesday that another of its workers, an American doctor, has been diagnosed with Ebola in Liberia.
Although health leaders know how to halt the spread of the virus, "the challenge is to scale it up to the massive levels needed to stop Ebola," CDC's Frieden said, noting, "Speed is key. For every day's delay, it becomes harder to stop it."
Frieden said the Ebola outbreak — the largest in the 40-year-history of the virus — is the first true Ebola epidemic, reaching widely into many countries. In the past, Ebola affected much smaller communities.
The World Health Organization reports that more than 3,000 people have been infected with Ebola in five countries of West Africa — Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal — and more than half have died.
Ebola now threatens the peace and security of the countries affected, Frieden says, noting that 70 staff from the CDC are now working in West Africa.
"This is not just a problem for Africa," Frieden said. "This is a problem for the world, and the world needs to respond."
Failing to control the virus makes it more likely that Ebola will expand to additional countries, and that Ebola could mutate in ways that make it easier to spread, Frieden said. While the risk of such mutations is low, "it's probably not zero."
Doctors Without Borders, one of the leading humanitarian agencies fighting the epidemic in West Africa, said Tuesday that "the world is losing the battle" to contain Ebola.
"Leaders are failing to come to grips with this transnational threat," said Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, in a statement. "States have essentially joined a global coalition of inaction."
The group called on countries with the capacity to handle biological disasters — such as pandemics or bioterrorist attacks — to send more boots on the ground, in the form of trained civilian or military medical teams.
"Funding announcements and the deployment of a few experts do not suffice," Liu said. "The clock is ticking and Ebola is winning. The time for meetings and planning is over. It is now time to act. Every day of inaction means more deaths and the slow collapse of societies."
Doctors Without Borders estimates that its hospital in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, needs another 800 beds. The hospital now has 160 beds.
"Every day, we have to turn sick people away," said Stefan Liljegren, a Doctors Without Borders coordinator in Liberia, in a statement. "I have had to tell ambulance drivers to call me before they arrive with patients, no matter how unwell they are, since we are often unable to admit them."
Frieden, who visited the Ebola wards himself, said wearing multiple layers of "personal protective equipment" — or moon suits — is "roasting hot" in the tropical climates of West Africa. "Sweat pours down into your goggles and eyes," Frieden says. Doctors wearing two sets of gloves have trouble even drawing blood, he said.
"As bad as the situation is now, everything I've seen suggests that it will get worse," Frieden says.
The World Health Organization last week announced that the Ebola outbreak could grow to 20,000 cases and take another six to nine months to contain.
"In some ways, the most upsetting thing I saw was what I didn't see," Frieden said of his trip to West Africa. "I didn't see enough beds for treatment. One facility with 36 beds, that just opened, had 63 patients. Some were laying on the ground. ... I didn't see data coming in from large parts of the country. I didn't see the rapid response that is needed to keep a single cluster from becoming a large outbreak."
A separate Ebola outbreak is occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. Tests on the viruses in circulation there show that the outbreak is a "distinct and independent event, with no relationship to the outbreak in West Africa," the World Health Organization said Tuesday.