GENEVA — West Africa’s deadly Ebola epidemic is probably much worse than the world realizes, with health centers on the front lines warning that the actual numbers of deaths and illnesses are significantly higher than the official estimates, the World Health Organization said.
So far, 2,127 cases of the disease and 1,145 deaths have been reported in four nations — Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone — the W.H.O announced Friday. But the organization has also warned that the actual number is almost certainly higher, perhaps by a very considerable margin.
“Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak,” the group said in a statement on Thursday.RELATED COVERAGE
The epidemic is still growing faster than efforts to keep up with it, and it will take months before governments and health workers in the region can get the upper hand, Joanne Liu, the president of Doctors Without Borders, said on Friday, calling conditions on the ground “like a war.”
The epidemic’s front line “is moving, it’s advancing, but we have no clue how it’s going to go around,” Dr. Liu said. “Over the next six months we should get the upper hand on the epidemic,” she added, but this was only a “gut feeling” and it would happen only if sufficient resources were put in place.
Many deaths have occurred within local communities, not at health centers, and the known deaths are “likely the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Liu said. “We are still having increasing numbers in most of the sites where we work.”
The W.H.O. announced last week that the Ebola epidemic constituted a public health emergency, in a bid to galvanize local and international action. But it has also emphasized that the risk of the epidemic spreading abroad is extremely low.
Dr. Liu cautioned that “we haven’t turned any corner yet” and that most of the international response was still at the level of promises.