WHO official calls for cross-border approach to contain deadly Ebola outbreak

An official from the U.N.'s World Health Organization recently stressed the need for a comprehensive response from community leaders to contain the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Luis Gomes Sambo, the WHO regional director for Africa, said at the opening session of the two-day emergency meeting in Accra, Ghana, that cross-border collaboration is necessary to halt the spread of the virus, which is the largest Ebola outbreak in history.

A total of 750 cases and 455 deaths have been reported across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Sambo said health workers have been disproportionately affected, with 32 deaths reported out of 60 total cases among the group.

Sambo also said the virus is circulating among both rural and urban populations, adding that the trend and potential of international spread "constitute a public health matter of grave concern."

"The current Ebola outbreak has the potential to spread outside the affected countries and beyond the region if urgent and relevant containing measures are not put in place," Sambo said.

Health officials have reported that cultural practices and traditional beliefs about disease have made the virus difficult to contain. For example, traditional funerals involve ritual bathing and close contact with the deceased.

"Your leadership is critical in ensuring that preventive and containment measures are effectively implemented in your countries," Sambo said. "To this end, I would like to stress the need to redeploy human resources and reallocate funds to facilitate operations in affected communities."

The Ebola outbreak was initially confined to rural Guinea, where health officials there reported the first cases to WHO. The virus was first seen among humans in 1976 in Yambuku, a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo along the Ebola River. East and Central Africa have seen more than 20 outbreaks since then.