By David Lewis and Stephanie Nebahey
The death toll from an outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has risen to at least 3,091 out of 6,574 probable, suspected and confirmed cases, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
Liberia has recorded 1,830 deaths, around three times as many as in either Guinea or Sierra Leone, the two other most affected countries, according to WHO data received up to September 23.
An outbreak that began in a remote corner of Guinea has taken hold of much of neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone, prompting warnings that tens of thousands of people may die from the worst outbreak of the disease on record.
The WHO update said Liberia had reported six confirmed cases of Ebola and four deaths in the Grand Cru district, which is near the border with Ivory Coast and had not previously recorded any cases of Ebola.
The district of Kindia in Guinea also reported its first confirmed case, the WHO said, a day after it said the spread of Ebola appeared to have stabilised in that country.
Nigeria and Senegal, the two other nations that have had confirmed cases of Ebola in the region, have not recorded any new cases or deaths in the last few weeks.
The WHO said on Friday it expected to begin small-scale use of two experimental Ebola vaccines in West Africa early next year and in the meantime transfusions of survivors’ blood may offer the best hope of treatment.
WHO is working with pharmaceutical companies and regulators to accelerate the use of a range of potential treatments to fight the disease, a senior WHO official said. Ebola has no cure.
GlaxoSmithKline has begun clinical trials of its vaccine in the United States and Britain, to be followed by a trial starting in Mali next week,while New Link vaccine trials are about to start in the United States and Germany, said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO assistant
“If everything goes well again we might be able to start to use some of these vaccines in affected countries at the very beginning of next year, in January. This will not be a mass vaccination campaign, let’s be clear about that because the quantity which will be available doesn’t make this possible,” Kieny told a news briefing in Geneva.
She stressed however that the shots were experimental and had not yet been shown to work against Ebola: “They have given very promising results in monkeys, but monkeys are not humans.
“We could still face a situation where these vaccines would be unsafe in humans or where they would do nothing in terms of protection. So we need to be very prudent.”