10/10/2014 09:59 EDT | Updated 12/10/2014 05:59 EST

Ebola response needs to be scaled up 20 times, UN says

The world’s response to the Ebola crisis needs to be 20 times greater than it was at the beginning of the month, the UN’s special envoy for the disease says.

Without mobilization on a massive scale, "it will be impossible to get this disease quickly under control, and the world will have to live with the Ebola virus forever," David Nabarro warned the UN General Assembly on Friday.

He urged all countries to act swiftly and generously, saying that contributions "within days" is more important than larger contributions within weeks.

Thousands of health workers, community mobilizers and people to construct and staff treatment centres are needed, Nabarro said, in calling for a scale-up in response. The outbreak presents an extraordinary challenge for the world that needs ingenuity and collective action against a virus that is invisible to our eyes and poorly understood by most.

The United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) said the three countries most affected in the outbreak — Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia — recently showed high economic growth rates, but those may be halved in a year.

Ebola is not just a health crisis, but a multidimensional one that kills, harms health systems, education, food security and livelihoods, Anthony Banbury, special representative and head of UNMEER, told the assembly.

Liberia’s health minister said while the health and economic systems are currently devastated, the goal of relief efforts should be to leave behind a stronger health system.

A health official from Sierra Leone said most the affected patients are in the age group of 15 to 50. Challenges include:

- Weak surveillance and contact tracing.

- A lack of ambulance and other logistics to move cases from the community to treatment centres.

- A shortage of hospital beds.

- Too few customized laboratories to  test specimens, which means holding centres have become a breeding ground for spread of the Ebola virus.

- A backlog of burial for corpses, which are a significant source of spread of the virus.

- Pockets of denial remain among people.

UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson said the agency’s appeal for $1 billion US to respond to the outbreak is only one-quarter funded.

The number of people known to have died has risen to 4,033 out of 8,399 cases in seven countries by the end of Oct. 8, the World Health Organization said on Friday.

The deaths were in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and the United States. Spain and Senegal have reported cases, but no deaths.