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Africa Ebola crisis 'unprecedented'

The Ebola crisis in West Africa has developed at an "unprecedented level", experts have warned.

The current rate of infection stands at 1.7, meaning that for every 10 people that contract the virus, a further 17 will also be infected. The aim is to get the rate down to one, and eventually below one, in the fight to stop the spread of the deadly disease.

Experts believe they have a 90-day window to halt the spread of Ebola, which could otherwise have infected around 1.5 million people by January.

The death toll from the infection, which has spread across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, has reportedly risen to more than 3,000.

More than 40 British military personnel and aid experts are now working in Sierra Leone following a direct request for assistance from the World Health Organisation and the country's government.

A spokesman for the Department for International Development (DfID) said: "This is on an unprecedented level and to a scale that we have not seen with previous Ebola outbreaks.

"Without further immediate action it could have serious far reaching consequences beyond the effects to health, including the availability of basic services, security implications and economic stability."

More than 160 NHS staff are also due to travel to Sierra Leone after answering a call for volunteers to help fight the disease earlier this month.

And Britain is to provide 700 extra beds to treat people affected by the highly contagious virus as part of a £100 million aid package.

Doctors and scientists are in a race against time to find a medical solution to the epidemic that is rapidly spiralling out of control.

Britain is to host an international conference on the epidemic in London on Thursday to raise international awareness of the disease and discuss how the global community can provide an effective response.

At least 3,700 children have lost one or both parents to the virus since the start of the outbreak, according to preliminary Unicef figures released today, with fears that this could have doubled by the middle of next month.

The charity warned that many are also being rejected by their surviving relatives for fear of infection.

Manuel Fontaine, Unicef regional director for West and Central Africa, said: "Thousands of children are living through the deaths of their mother, father or family members from Ebola.

"These children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned. Orphans are usually taken in by a member of the extended family, but in some communities, the fear surrounding Ebola is becoming stronger than family ties."

The charity said it is helping the government in Liberia to train 400 additional mental health and social workers, while in Sierra Leone, more than 2,500 Ebola survivors - who are now immune to the disease - will be trained to provide care and support to quarantined children in treatment centres.

In Guinea, Unicef and partners will also provide about 60,000 vulnerable children and families in affected communities with support.

Unicef said it has appealed for 200 million US dollars (£123.6 million) to provide emergency assistance to children and families affected by the Ebola outbreak across the region, but has so far only received 25% of this amount.

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