By Magdalena Mis
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Efforts to control the Ebola virus in Liberia must be quickly and dramatically scaled up or tens of thousands of people will die in the coming months, said a study published on Friday.
Nearly 4,900 deaths have been recorded across West Africa since the virus was first detected in Guinea in March, according to the World Health Organization. Liberia has been the hardest hit of the countries most affected by the virus, with 2,705 deaths and 4,665 recorded cases.
Without accelerated efforts to control the disease, Ebola will kill 90,000 in Liberia and infect 171,000 by mid-December, a study in medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases said.
"Our predictions highlight the rapidly closing window of opportunity for controlling the outbreak and averting a catastrophic toll of new Ebola cases and deaths in the coming months", Alison Galvani, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement.
Additional medical facilities for Ebola treatment, a fivefold increase in detection of new cases, together with allocation of protective kits for households could avert as many as 98,000 cases by mid-December, the study said.
Researchers based their analysis on a study of Liberia's Montserrado County, which encompasses the capital Monrovia and where the vast majority of cases have been recorded.
Without expanded efforts to control the epidemic, the national toll would be even higher, they said.
"The scale of interventions that are currently being implemented are still paltry in comparison to what we anticipate is needed," Joseph Lewnard, one of the authors of the paper told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.
The United States has pledged an additional 1,700 beds for Ebola treatment centres in West Africa, however 4,800 beds could be needed for Montserrado County alone, said Lewnard.
Even a two-week delay could greatly limit the effectiveness of interventions and result in tens of thousands of people dying, he said.
Controlling the outbreak is especially difficult in Monrovia's West Point slum, where over 75,000 people live without running water, making it difficult to implement World Health Organization's recommendation to wash hands with water and soap while caring for sick family members.
A team of 51 doctors and nurses from Cuba arrived in Liberia on Wednesday to help to fight the epidemic.
The United States is also gradually deploying troops to Liberia as part of a 3,000-strong mission to help West African nations cope with the epidemic by building Ebola treatment units and training local medical staff.