The World Health Organisation warned west Africa's Ebola-hit nations today that the epidemic was spiralling out of control and could spread to other countries, causing "catastrophic" loss of life and severe economic disruption.
WHO chief Margaret Chan told the leaders of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia at a regional summit the response to the epidemic had been "woefully inadequate", revealing that the outbreak was "moving faster than our efforts to control it".
The leaders were in the Guinean capital Conakry to organise the deployment of hundreds of extra medical personnel as part of a USD 100 million emergency response to an epidemic which has claimed more than 700 lives.
The plan will also bolster efforts to prevent and detect suspected cases, urge better border surveillance, and reinforce WHO's sub-regional outbreak coordination centre in Guinea.
"If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socio-economic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries," Chan said. She described the outbreak as "by far the largest ever in the nearly four-decade history of this disease".
"It is taking place in areas with fluid population movements over porous borders, and it has demonstrated its ability to spread via air travel, contrary to what has been seen in past outbreaks," she told the summit.
"Cases are occurring in rural areas which are difficult to access, but also in densely populated capital cities. This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response." The meeting came after Dubai's Emirates became the first global airline to announce it was suspending flights to the stricken area while the United States, Germany and France issued warnings against travel to the three African countries.
Meanwhile Nigeria quarantined two people who had "primary contact" with a man who died of Ebola in Lagos last week as west Africa battled to tame the outbreak. The WHO raised the death toll by 57 to 729 on Thursday, announcing that 122 new cases had been detected between Thursday and Sunday last week, bringing the total to more than 1,300.
"Current numbers of national and international response staff are woefully inadequate," Chan said, revealing that 60 health workers had died treating patients in the outbreak.