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Health workers race to halt Ebola in West Africa

July 4, 2014 at 6:23 PM EDT
Patients in West Africa are fleeing and fighting doctors trying to treat Ebola.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now a spreading health crisis in Africa.

International and regional officials met in Ghana yesterday to coordinate a strategy to contain an outbreak of Ebola and keep it from spilling over new borders.

Jeff is back with our report.

JEFFREY BROWN: With more than 750 cases of infection identified and at least 467 individuals killed, the latest Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the now the largest and deadliest ever of the disease.

Since February, Ebola cases have been reported in both rural and urban areas of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, leaving health workers in a race against time to halt the deadly virus from spreading.

Ebola is highly lethal, killing 90 percent of those who become infected, and is transmitted by direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected animals or people. Despite precautions, health workers can still be at risk.

This nurse contracted the virus after interacting with an Ebola patient who later died.

WOMAN: How are you feeling? Do you feel sick?

WOMAN: I feel weak.

JEFFREY BROWN: And there are further dangers for health workers. In April, a Doctors Without Borders facility in Guinea was attacked amid accusations that the staff brought the disease into the country. And this week, the Red Cross temporarily suspended operations in the southeastern part of the country after armed men surrounded and threatened workers.

BERNICE DAHN, Deputy Health Minister, Liberia: Our biggest challenge is denial, fear and panic. Our people are very much afraid of the disease.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ending their meeting in Ghana yesterday, health officials spoke of meeting that and other challenges. World Health Organization Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda:

KEIJI FUKUDA, Assistant Director-General for World Health Security, World Health Organization: That combination of having multiple mini-outbreaks going on within the larger outbreak, having them take place in different countries, with difficult communities, different cultures, makes it very complex.

JEFFREY BROWN: Among the summit’s resolutions, stepped-up surveillance to better detect virus cases, enhanced cross-border collaboration, and increased engagement with local communities and global health partners.