By Misha Hussain
DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A mass delivery of almost half a million household kits to help stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa began on Thursday with the first batch of 9,000 packages containing gloves, soap and chlorine arriving in Liberia.
With forecasts of a massive escalation in the number of victims in coming months, international aid organizations are stepping up efforts to try to contain the deadly virus at community level, a United Nations official said Thursday.
Nearly 3,000 people have died in the worst outbreak on record of the deadly virus that began in Guinea in March and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control warns up to 1.4 million people could be infected by January without immediate action.
Currently there are no widely available vaccines and cures for Ebola. The kits contain protective gowns, gloves and masks, as well as soap, chlorine and a sprayer, along with instructions on the use and safe disposal of materials.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) plans to distribute kits to up to 400,000 households across Liberia, which is the worst hit country with over 3,280 cases and 1,677 deaths according to the latest WHO figures.
"As we work to urgently get those who are infected into safe places for treatment, this airlift of protection kits will help ensure that Ebola Care Centres and communities have the information and tools they need to safely care for those who fall ill," USAID spokesman Tim Callaghan said in a statement.
Liberia has struggled to stop the spread of Ebola. A decade of civil war as well as poverty and corruption has left health care workers without the equipment or training to be able to control the virus effectively and safely.
Sheldon Yett, representative of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Liberia, said about 50,000 kits will arrive in the next few months to provide a temporary solution until more treatment centers are built and staff trained.
"The first priority is for more dedicated Ebola treatment facilities and trained staff, but until these are in place, we need to support community efforts to safely care for those who may be infected and cut the transmission cycle of this deadly disease," he said in a statement.
Gayle Smith, the White House's senior director for global development on the National Security Council, said officials have identified 400,000 of the most vulnerable households and are working with community leaders to deliver health care kits.
Funding for the first 50,000 kits has been provided by USAID and the U.S.-based philanthropic organization Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, which has committed a US$3.6 million matching contribution to UNICEF to support the airlift.
(Reporting By Misha Hussain, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)