The Progress on Ebola: Q&A with Tarik Jasarevic, the World Health Organization

Oct 21, 2014, 12:19 PM

Over the weekend, NewPublicHealth conducted an email interview with Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO), on Ebola efforts on the ground in West Africa and the impact on the global effort of the cases recently diagnosed in the United States.

NewPublicHealth: Is there concern among global health leaders that the attention on a handful of cases is taking away attention from the thousands of cases in West Africa? 

Tarik Jasarevic: While countries need to be vigilant and prepared for a possible case of Ebola, we need to focus on getting all possible resources—trained health workers, medical facilities with beds and money—to the affected countries in West Africa. 
NPH: Several weeks ago global health leaders had a checklist of things, including money and personnel, needed to stem the outbreaks in the various countries. Where do things stand now, and what is still needed? 

Jasarevic: We need a lot of resources if we’re going to get the virus under control. WHO and partners constructed 12 Ebola Treatment Centers in Liberia, 15 in Sierra Leone and 3 in Guinea—30 out of the 50 that are needed. These facilities contain more than 1,100 beds for patients, out of the more than 4,000 needed. There are more than 2,500 beds becoming available in the next few weeks, but we still need more. We also need international health workers to come work alongside national health workers to manage and run the health facilities. WHO has set up “training academies” in each of the affected countries to train more local health workers, but more are needed.
NPH: What is the current fatality rate?

Jasarevic: The fatality rate for this particular outbreak has always been approximately 70 percent. We are seeing higher numbers of cases and deaths because of the geographic spread of the disease, from urban city centers to rural, hard to reach villages. There is also significant under reporting of cases in the three countries, especially Liberia. 

NPH: What has been effective in stemming the outbreaks among West African natives and how do you keep those efforts in place? 

Jasarevic: What works is getting resources in the right place so we can isolate potential cases as quickly as possible and start providing treatment. Also, contract tracing and safe burials are critical so that the spread of the disease is contained.

NPH: What money have you received, how much more do you need and what will it be used for? 

Jasarevic: WHO estimates that it will need $260 million for the Ebola response? This includes $105 million on care for persons with Ebola and infection control; $73 million to identify and trace people who have been infected with Ebola; $10 million on medical care for responders; $10 million on safe, dignified burials of those who have died from Ebola; and $36 million on access to basic health services other than Ebola. Another $10 million is budgeted for social mobilization, community engagement and messaging activities, and some $16 million is budgeted for multi-faceted preparedness activities. WHO has received about $69 million so far and faces a funding shortfall of $136 million.

NPH: CDC is ramping up infection control efforts for Ebola among U.S. health workers. Could that add to the number of well-trained individuals who could be dispatched to West Africa?

Jasarevic: Health care workers should first and foremost make sure their own communities have the support and robust capacity that is needed to confront this disease if cases occur. People trained in treating patients with hemorrhagic fevers may choose to enlist with agencies providing patient care in affected countries, provided they fill the other prerequisites.

NPH: What concerns do you have about actions that the United States might take that could worsen the situation in West Africa, such as shutting down air routes?

Jasarevic: Leading health experts agree. We know what is needed to stop this outbreak, and it doesn’t include banning people from traveling from West Africa to the United States or anywhere else. Travel bans are ineffective and can be detrimental to economies. Countries need to be prepared and ready to identify people at risk at the earliest possible moment and apply stringent prevent and control measures for any cases detected.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.