Accra, Ghana: The World Health Organization (WHO) has attributed the continuing spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa to some outmoded cultural practices and traditional beliefs.
It said some of these beliefs and practices were contrary to the recommended public health preventive measures instituted to curtail the spread of the disease.
Luis Gomes Sambo, Regional Director of the WHO Regional Office for Africa, made the remarks at the opening of an Emergency Ministerial Meeting on Ebola Outbreak in West Africa here on Wednesday.
The two-day meeting, expected to host ministers of Health of 11 countries and partners involved in the Ebola outbreak response, is being organized by WHO as part of efforts to interrupt further spread of the virus in the shortest possible time.
Participants will discuss the best way of tackling the crisis collectively as well as develop a comprehensive inter-country operational response plan.
What started off in March as a rural outbreak of Ebola in Guinea has spread to the capital, Conakry, as well as neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia with cumulative total of 750 cases and 455 deaths reported in the three countries as of Tuesday.
"In addition, the extensive movement of people within and across borders has facilitated rapid spread of the infection across and within the three countries," Sambo added.
He cautioned that the current Ebola outbreak had the propensity to spread beyond affected countries and beyond the region if urgent and relevant containing measures were not put in place.
The Regional Director therefore urged ministers of Health in affected countries to leave no stone unturned in their efforts towards containment of the outbreak, adding that their leadership was most needed in the effective implementation of preventive and containment measures in their respective countries.
"To Ministers of Health in neighboring countries, you should strengthen disease surveillance and increase investment in epidemic preparedness," he said.
Sherry Ayittey, Ghana's minister of Health, noted that at the time it was thought that the war against infectious diseases was being won, those caused by viruses continued to remain a formidable threat.
"Given its spread across three countries, the current Ebola outbreak in West Arica is known to be one of the most challenging WHO and its partners have ever faced," Ayittey said.
She said there were millions in dire need of solution to the scourge of Ebola in the sub-region and beyond.
"We have a small window of opportunity to prevent the outbreak from spreading further and I urge all to work assiduously in achieving our objectives," the minister said.