The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday that the recent Ebola outbreak that started in March of this year is accelerating at an alarming rate and could affect more than 20,000 people before it is contained. More than 40 percent of the total number of cases have occurred within the past 21 days, as the disease is being transmitted in busy city centers. In response, the WHO has come up with a roadmap that aims to stop transmission of the virus in the next eight to nine months, but warns that that timeline could be delayed due to various uncertainties.

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According to the latest figures released by the WHO on Thursday, the death toll has risen by more than 100, to 1,552 out of 3,069 cases in four West African countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, where people previously thought that the outbreak was under control. The W.H.O. said the countries hit hardest by the epidemic — Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone — were “struggling to control the escalating outbreak against a backdrop of severely compromised health systems, significant deficits in capacity, and rampant fear.” Two hundred and fifty medical workers have contracted the disease as of Monday. Health workers were getting infected because they were exhausted from working extraordinary hours. The best way to mitigate this problem, says the WHO, will be to get more health workers into the affected regions.

Related: Deadly Ebola Outbreak Spreads Across West Africa, Infects Two Americans

The WHO roadmap to contain the disease could stop transmissions in new countries within eight weeks of the first case being identified. It emphasizes the need to halt transmission of the disease in major cities and ports, and underscores the importance of keeping air and shipping links operating to deliver medical supplies, personal protection equipment, food and other goods to fight the outbreak.

A growing number of airlines are cutting services to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and now those countries are facing severe economic downturns. On Wednesday, British Airways said it was suspending flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone because of Ebola concerns. Air France followed suit on Thursday. But the WHO warns that bans on travel and trade will not stop this virus, but will only compromise the ability to respond.

Via New York Times

Photos by USAID Africa Bureau (Health care for sick babiesUploaded by Elitre) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and by Juliette Humble/Department for International Development [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons