A Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) member in protective gear. Picture: AFP/CELLOU BINANI
A Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) member in protective gear. Picture: AFP/CELLOU BINANI

SOUTH Africa is stepping up its contribution to the fight against Ebola but the war remains so one-sided that much more is needed from Africa as a whole — and very quickly — if the worst outbreak in history is to be brought under control.

SA-based Ebola experts say speed is of the essence now that the death toll has climbed above 3,000. "The needs are very great. There will always be a need for more," said Dr Frew Benson, chief director of communicable diseases at the Department of Health, on Friday.

"Everyone must do more, including in Africa," said Jens Pedersen of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, who returned to his base in Johannesburg last week after a month-long stint in Monrovia.

"It’s quite clear the fatalities will move higher because we are still behind the curve. But it’s not inevitable it will spread to Côte d’Ivoire or other countries," said Mr Pedersen on Saturday.

"The epidemic is certainly running faster than the response. We’ve never seen an outbreak of Ebola transform like this one," said Steve Smith, the US health attache to SA.

The United Nations estimates immediate funding needs at $1bn, six months after the outbreak was detected in Guinea. The world’s

richest countries, led by the US, are to pay the lion’s share but even Cuba is sending hundreds of doctors and nurses.

Tens of thousands of ordinary citizens and health workers are waging the anti-Ebola fight in the three countries at the epicentre of the outbreak. They are some of the poorest and least developed in Africa and their decrepit public health systems are swamped. But all three are rich in minerals and South African companies are among the foreign miners that have invested there.

SA’s Department of Health sent a mobile testing laboratory to Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, in mid-August. The government has launched an Ebola Response Fund, appealing for R250m and chipping in R32.5m from public funds so far. Private businesses have been slow off the mark. By Friday they had donated R4.5m by Friday, mainly in goods and services, co-ordinator Dr Barry Kistnasamy said."

SA’s plan is to get a 40-bed treatment unit to Freetown in addition to the mobile lab and the qualified staff to manage both for the next nine months.

The African Union (AU) has sent the first batch of 20 African volunteers to help in Liberia. "This is the time for Africa to show solidarity with the affected countries," said AU commissioner for social affairs Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko.

The AU is getting advice from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention about creating a similar organisation in Africa to help cope with future epidemics. The Atlanta-based body warned last week that between 550,000 and 1.4-million people might be infected in West Africa by January. This projection was not shared by all experts, but its source caused alarm bells to ring even louder.