West African healthcare systems reel as Ebola toll hits 932

West African healthcare systems reel as Ebola toll hits 932
A health worker, wearing personal protection gear, offers water to a woman with Ebola at a treatment centre for infected persons in Kenema Government Hospital, in Kenema, Eastern Province, Sierra Leone in this handout photo provided by Unicef on Aug 6, 2014.

MONROVIA/DAKAR - Health workers in West Africa are appealing for urgent help in controlling the world's worst Ebola outbreak as the death toll climbed to 932 and Liberia declared a state of emergency.

"The government and people of Liberia require extraordinary measures for the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people," Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said in an official statement. The state of emergency was for 90 days, effective Wednesday.

Liberia also shut a major hospital where several staff were infected, including a Spanish priest.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it would ask medical ethics experts to explore emergency use of experimental treatments to tackle the highly contagious disease after a trial drug was given to two US charity workers infected in Liberia.

With West Africa's rudimentary healthcare systems swamped, 45 new deaths from Ebola were reported in the three days to Aug. 4, the WHO said. Liberia and Sierra Leone have deployed troops in the worst-hit areas in their remote border region to try to stem the spread of the virus, for which there is no known cure.

WHO experts began a two-day crisis meeting in Geneva to discuss whether the epidemic constitutes a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" and to consider steps to help overstretched emergency organisations. "This outbreak is unprecedented and out of control," said Walter Lorenzi, head of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Sierra Leone.

"We have a desperate need for other actors on the ground, not in offices or in meetings, but with their rubber gloves on, in the field."

International alarm at the diffusion of the virus increased when a US citizen, Patrick Sawyer, died in Nigeria last month after flying there from Liberia. Authorities said on Wednesday that a Nigerian nurse who had treated Sawyer had also died of Ebola, and five other people were being treated in an isolation ward in Lagos, Africa's largest city.

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