The outgoing head of the U.N. mission to combat Ebola said Friday that the worst outbreak of the disease could be ended this year.
Anthony Banbury, delivering his final address as head of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response in Accra, Ghana, discussed significant progress in fighting Ebola since he was appointed in September, but he added that the crisis was far from over.
The battle to conquer the disease "is going to go on for not just weeks but some months more," he said. "But I believe we will do it in 2015, and we're going to do it by working very closely not just with governments of the
countries but the communities." He stressed that reaching zero Ebola cases was the only acceptable outcome.
The outbreak was first identified in Guinea's remote southeast in early 2014. Banbury said that when the U.N. mission began its work, there were predictions that as many as 1.4 million people would be infected by the start of 2015. But the number of infected stands at 20,206, according to the World Health Organization. More than 7,900 people have died from the disease.
A spike of cases in Sierra Leone meant UNMEER missed its target of ensuring that by early December, 70 percent of all Ebola patients were being treated in isolation units and 70 percent of all those who died from Ebola were buried properly.
Banbury said there were now enough functioning treatment centers in the region. The target of 100 percent safe burials by end of January 2015 was on track, he said, now that there are some 254 safe-burial teams operating in the affected countries.
Almost all the Ebola cases have occurred in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. The other nations where at least one Ebola case has been diagnosed are Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Spain, the United States and Britain.
Last week, a nurse was diagnosed with the virus in Britain upon her return from Sierra Leone. She is being treated with blood plasma from a survivor of the virus and an experimental antiviral drug, according to the London hospital treating her.
A veteran humanitarian official, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania, will take over leadership of the U.N. Ebola response mission Saturday.