Government ministers in several West African states said today that they are lacking in resources to fight the ongoing serious outbreak of Ebola. Government and health care officials highlighted deep cultural suspicions about the disease as a major obstacle to educating the public and stopping the spread of the frequently fatal hemorrhagic fever.

Ebola

Ebola virus outbreak death toll

Ebola results in fever, vomiting, internal bleeding and diarrhea. The disease kills up to 90% of those who are infected, and it is transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids.

The current outbreak has resulted in the deaths 467 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since early this year, making it the largest and deadliest Ebola outbreak on record, according to the World Health Organization.

West African health ministers have been meeting in Accra, Ghana over the last few days to develop a regional response to the crisis. In public appearances, the officials have issued both appeals for cash and explanations about cultural practices that have led to the disease spreading across borders.

Statements from ministers

Abubakarr Fofanah, deputy health minister for Sierra Leone, emphasized in an interview that money was desperately needed for drugs, basic protective gear and pay for employees.

It was also announced that Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, his vice president and all cabinet ministers will donate half of their salaries to support efforts to quell the outbreak.

Bernice Dahn, Liberia’s deputy health minister, spoke to the press during a break at the meeting. “In Liberia, our biggest challenge is denial, fear and panic. Our people are very much afraid of the disease. People are afraid but do not believe that the disease exists and because of that people get sick and the community members hide them and bury them, against all the norms we have put in place,” she said.

Health care agencies staff threatened

In a related development, the Red Cross in Guinea said it had to temporarily suspend a number of operations in the southeast part of the country following threats to medical staff who were treating Ebola victims.

“Locals wielding knives surrounded a marked Red Cross vehicle,” an unnamed Red Cross official said. The official said operations had to be suspended for safety reasons. It was later updated that only international staff were removed.

A Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) clinic in Guinea was also attacked earlier this spring after staff were falsely accused of bringing Ebola into the area.