ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Two of the world 's leading health organizations released their predictions today of how bad the Ebola outbreak in West Africa could become. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization agree, the epidemic is speeding up. And the CDC says worst-case, if no help arrives, more than 1.4 million people could be infected by early next year. The agencies say that that doomsday scenario is unlikely to happen, but as NPR's Michael Michaeleen Doucleff reports, the numbers serve as a warning.
MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: Health officials at the CDC in Atlanta don't usually pull the fire alarm if there isn't a fire, but 1.4 million cases by the end of January? Are they trying to scare us?
CHRIS DYE: Figures of that kind certainly have shock value.
DOUCLEFF: Chris Dye is based in Geneva and he directs strategy for the World Health Organization.
DYE: These kinds of projections are not to say that this is what is going to happen, these projections say that if there aren't further measures put in place, then these are the kinds of case numbers that we'd expect to see.
DOUCLEFF: With predictions like 1.4 million cases, the CDC says it's trying this show that there is an enormous cost for delay in getting aid to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Doctor Tom Frieden is director of the CDC.
TOM FRIEDEN: For each month of delay, there's a big increase in the number of cases and it gets that much more difficult to control all the epidemic.
DOUCLEFF: And Frieden is on the same page as his WHO colleague about this worst-case scenario.
FRIEDEN: I'm confident that the most dire projections are not going to come to past.
DOUCLEFF: That's because aid is already starting to arrive in West Africa. The U.S. is making plans to set up 1,700 treatment beds in Liberia and the U.K. also announced last week it will provide 700 beds in Sierra Leone. The World Health Organization's estimates for the epidemic are more conservative than the CDC's, Chris Dye says they only go through early November.
DYE: Our projections are for more than 20,000 cases by then.
DOUCLEFF: He says the WHO forecasts also don't take into account that aid is now arriving. Both agencies do agree on how to turn the tide on this epidemic, get 70 percent of sick people in isolation and treatment centers. Right now, Dye says, less than half of the people who need treatment are getting it. But if all goes well, he expects they could reach that 70 percent goal in several weeks. But the data do reveal another problem.
DYE: Our great concern is that this will be an epidemic that lasts for several years.
DOUCLEFF: The epidemic has had such a size and become so widespread that even if they slow it down, Ebola could become a permanent presence in West Africa. If that happens there would be a constant threat that Ebola could spread around the world. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.
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