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Ebola epidemic "vastly" underestimated: WHO

As the official toll climbed to 1,069, according to World Health Organisation, the United States ordered the evacuation of diplomats' families from Sierra Leone, one of the three countries at the epicentre of the outbreak along with Liberia and Guinea.

The Geneva-based WHO said in a statement it was coordinating "a massive scaling up of the international response", in a bid to tackle the worst epidemic of haemorrhagic fever-causing virus since its discovery four decades ago.

"Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak," it said.

"The outbreak is expected to continue for some time. WHO's operational response plan extends over the next several months," the organisation warned.

A serious outbreak in Lagos, where the epidemic claimed a fourth victim on Thursday, could severely disrupt the oil and gas industry in Nigeria if international companies are forced to evacuate staff and local operations are shut down, the Moody's rating agency warned.

Any "decline in production would quickly translate into economic and fiscal deterioration," said Matt Robinson, senior credit officer at Moody's.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama called President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Sierra Leone's leader Ernest Bai Koromo.

The calls came as the US State Department ordered families of its diplomats in Sierra Leone to leave the country to avoid exposure.

"In his conversations with both leaders, the president underscored the commitment of the United States to work with Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other international partners to contain the outbreak and expressed his condolences for the lives lost," the White House said in a statement.

In Sierra Leone's parliament on Thursday, the country's chief medical officer, Dr Brima Kargbo, spoke of the difficulties health workers were facing in fighting the epidemic.

"We still have to break the chain of transmission to separate the infected from the uninfected," Kargbo said. But, he added: "There is a rejection among people of the existence of Ebola and hostility towards health workers."

The disease has taken its toll on those trying to help its victims.

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