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UN: Months before Ebola controlled

The UN's Ebola chief has said it will be several more months before the outbreak in West Africa is under control.

In September, the World Health Organisation said it wanted to have 100% of Ebola cases isolated by January 1.

It conceded earlier this month that it did not fully meet an interim target but has not made clear what that means for the January goal, which some have said now looks unrealistic.

Dr David Nabarro said there has been "a massive shift" over the last four months in the way governments have taken the lead in responding to the epidemic and communities are taking action.

But he said greater efforts are still needed to control Ebola in hard-hit Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

The World Health Organisation conceded that it did not meet an interim December 1 target of isolating 70% of Ebola patients and safely burying 70% of victims in hardest-hit Sierra Leone.

But it has not made clear what that means for its January 1 goal, which it set in September. It has acknowledged that its patchy data could compromise the goal, since the agency does not know how many Ebola patients there actually are and is unable to track all of their contacts.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said last month the outbreak might not be contained until some time next year.

"We must be prepared for ups and downs, difficulties and successes," Dr Nabarro told a meeting promoting greater collaboration between the UN and the business community in responding to Ebola. "And it's going to take, I'm afraid, several more months before we can truly declare that the outbreak is coming under control."

More than 18,100 people have been infected and more than 6,500 have died in West Africa since the initial case in Guinea a year ago, in an area bordering Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Unlike previous Ebola outbreaks, which had been confined to faraway villages in the rainforests of Central Africa, this one quickly spread to capital cities in all three West African nations and has become the worst in history.

The outbreak is now stabilising in Liberia and Guinea but continues to spread rapidly in Sierra Leone, where Dr Nabarro said the country's president is leading "an intensified surge operation" in the capital Freetown and hard-hit western areas.

"It will come under control - it's, I think, a matter of weeks," Dr Nabarro said.

In Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koroma implored the country's traditional leaders to stop cultural practices blamed for spreading Ebola, including funerals that involve touching corpses that are highly contagious.

Mr Koroma said he hoped to end all Ebola transmissions in the next 21 days, but that goal seems unrealistic in a country where 400 to 500 cases a week have recently been reported.

Dr Nabarro said the UN and experts responding to the outbreak are also disturbed by the 10-20 new cases daily in Liberia and want the number reduced to zero.

"When we dissect what is happening, it looks like ... about a hundred miniature outbreaks are still going on," Dr Nabarro said. "They are much less intense in most of the region."

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