GENEVA — The World Health Organization said on Thursday that the Ebola epidemic was still accelerating and could afflict more than 20,000 people — almost seven times the current number of reported cases — before it could be brought under control.
The dire forecast was made as the health organization reported that the number of known cases and fatalities had risen once again. The organization also acknowledged that in areas of intense transmission “the actual number of cases may be two to four times higher than that currently reported.”
The outbreak “continues to accelerate,” the organization said.
According to the latest figures released by the health organization on Thursday, the total cases had risen to 3,069, with 1,552 deaths, in four West African countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
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Though the disease was identified in March, “more than 40 percent of the total number of cases have occurred within the past 21 days,” the organization said. “However, most cases are concentrated in only a few localities.”
The assessment came as the organization presented what it called a road map for stopping the transmission of Ebola within nine months. The plans are likely to cost nearly half a billion dollars over the next six months.
Though the road map aims to stop the epidemic in that time frame, “We have to be realistic that there is uncertainty” about such targets, Bruce Aylward, an assistant director general of the health organization, told reporters in Geneva.
With many centers for treating the disease now too full to take new patients, it was necessary to find and expand other approaches to contain the spread of the disease, the organization said.
The road map assumes that a number of countries that are not now affected by the epidemic could become so, but also asserts that the procedures it sets out could stop any new transmissions within eight weeks of the first case being identified.
“That’s extremely aggressive,” Mr. Aylward said, acknowledging such speedy containment had been achieved only in remote locations, not in the crowded urban centers now affected.
The road map came as Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that the epidemic could get worse before it gets better. Dr. Frieden called for quicker international help and cooperation to control its spread.
Doctors Without Borders, which is battling the disease in the region, welcomed the road map but cautioned against taking a “false sense of hope” from it.
In a sign of the difficulties facing governments seeking to contain the disease, the health authorities in Nigeria reported on Thursday for the first time that the disease had spread beyond Lagos, its commercial capital, to claim another death.
In its statement on Thursday, the World Health Organization said the countries hit hardest by the epidemic — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — were “struggling to control the escalating outbreak against a backdrop of severely compromised health systems, significant deficits in capacity, and rampant fear.”
Mr. Aylward, picking out details of the road map, said it would take at least 750 international and 12,000 local health workers.
“That is very difficult in the current environment,” he added, alluding to fears arising from the high number of medical workers — 250 as of Monday — who had contracted the disease. Recruiting international staff may be harder than finding local personnel, he added, debunking the notion that locals were running away from the crisis.
Health workers were getting infected because they were exhausted from working extraordinary hours, Mr. Aylward said.
The road map emphasized the need to halt transmission of the disease in major cities and ports, and underscored the importance of keeping air and shipping links operating to deliver medical supplies, personal protection equipment, food and other goods to fight the outbreak.
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are facing severe economic downturns as they struggle to cope with the Ebola outbreak, the African Development Bank reported on Thursday. On Wednesday, British Airways said it was suspending flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone because of Ebola concerns. Air France followed suit on Thursday.