After finishing his tour of West African countries impacted by the Ebola virus, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon stressed that the epidemic still demands international attention and called for recovery efforts to be stepped up in the region in order to rebuild shattered economies, get children back in school and begin caring for orphans.
"We must learn the lessons of Ebola, which go well beyond strengthening public health systems ... The international community needs better early warning and rapid response," he said in a press conference at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
The U.N. head’s remarks come as the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday that the death toll from Ebola in the three West Africa countries hardest hit by the epidemic has risen to 7,518 out of 19,340 confirmed cases recorded there to date.
During his trip to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, Ban was accompanied by the Head of the WHO Margaret Chan, the U.N. coordinator for the fight against Ebola, David Nabarro, and Anthony Banbury, the head of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).
According to official figures Sierra Leone has had the most cases; 8,939, while Liberia has 7,830 and Guinea 2,571. But Sierra Leone's death toll of 2,556 is much less than the 3,376 recorded in Liberia. The outbreak began last December, but it took nine months for the U.N. to decide to set up an emergency mission. Diplomats have pointed the finger at the WHO for failing to quickly raise the alarm.
The first reported case of Ebola occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976 in an outbreak that killed at least 280 people. It is a form of hemorrhagic fever with immediate symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and bleeding, and spreads through direct contact with infected patients. It can also be transmitted through sexual contact or unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.