Most Ebola patients don't receive proper medical care at hospitals or other health care facilities, increasing the risk of transmission among people in Liberia and other West African nations grappling with an outbreak that has killed 2,800 people since March. Without a drastic expansion of health care access, Ebola cases will continue to soar, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Only 18 percent of Ebola patients in Liberia have received medical treatment at a hospital or other professional facilities designed to isolate the outbreak from the rest of the population. But that rate needs to reach at least 70 percent to starve off the health care crisis. Liberia has seen the deadliest Ebola outbreak, with some 3,280 infected people and 1,720 Ebola-related deaths. More than 150 Liberian health workers have contracted the virus, prompting some nurses to strike, and medical resources are in short supply.
"The facility is completely overcapacity, and we're having to turn people away," Caitlin Ryan, a spokeswoman for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, told website Vice of an Ebola treatment facility on the outskirts of Monrovia. "We're utterly overwhelmed, there are no other words for it."
To help combat the crisis, the U.S. military is expected to build as many as 17 treatment centers in West Africa, with a total of 1,700 beds. The U.S. also plans to train 500 health workers a week.
But even if there were enough treatment centers in Liberia, there's still the matter of persuading some Ebola patients to seek professional health care. Distrust of the government has kept some victims at home, further helping to spread the contagion.
Liberia's Information Minister Lewis Brown told the Agence France-Presse that the tepid response from the international community to the Ebola outbreak could cause West Africa to "slip back into conflict." Liberia's most recent civil war ended in 2002.
"Hospitals are struggling, but so too are hotels," Brown said. "Businesses are struggling. If this continues the cost of living will go to the roof. You have an agitated population."
The World Health Organization said Tuesday the number of Ebola infections could grow to 20,000 by November if efforts to stop the outbreak aren't stepped up radically.