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West African nations hold crisis talks over Ebola outbreak

Health ministers from across West Africa have gathered in Ghana to discuss the deadliest-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus. Delegates are aiming to draft response to the epidemic, which has claimed almost 500 lives.

Representatives from some 11 West African nations were scheduled to attend the talks on Wednesday, to plan "drastic action" in response to an epidemic that is so far believed to have claimed 467 lives.

The meeting, a day after the death toll was published by the World Health Organization (WHO), follows a "significant increase" in the rate of new cases and fatalities in recent weeks.

WHO figures show 759 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola - across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - with the number rising despite efforts by international health organizations.

"This makes the ongoing Ebola outbreak the largest in terms of the number of cases and deaths as well as geographical spread," the WHO said in a statement announcing the conference.

"Decisions taken at this meeting will be critical in addressing the current and future outbreaks," it said.

The WHO has warned that the Ebola outbreak could spread to other countries, with 129 new cases confirmed - 22 of which came to light in the past week.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) last week said that, with more than 60 outbreak hotspots, the spread of the virus had spiraled "out of control."

In their own response to the outbreak, Liberian authorities warned on Tuesday that anyone caught hiding suspected Ebola patients would be prosecuted. Faith healers, in particular, are alleged to have removed patients from hospitals for special prayers.

The WHO has identified key three factors that have fueled the spread of the epidemic as being high population densities in the capital cities of Guinea and Liberia, commercial activity along porous national borders and traditional burial routines. A lack of awareness about the disease, preventing early diagnosis, has also been cited as a problem.

rc/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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