Geneva: The weekly number of new Ebola cases registered across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone rose in the last week of January, marking the first hike in 2015, the World Health Organisation has said.
"Weekly case incidence increased in all three countries for the first time this year," the UN health agency said yesterday.
During the seven days leading up to February 1, 124 new cases were confirmed across the three west African countries at the epicentre of the devastating outbreak.
Thirty-nine of the new cases were in Guinea, where the outbreak began in December 2013, with at least 11 new cases attributed to a single unsafe burial.
A week earlier, the country had confirmed just 30 new cases.
Liberia meanwhile recorded five new cases last week, up from four the week before, and Sierra Leone confirmed 80 new cases, up from 65, according to the latest statistics.
"Continued community resistance, increasing geographical spread in Guinea and widespread transmission in Sierra Leone, and a rise in incidence show that the (Ebola) response still faces significant challenges," the WHO said.
In total, 22,495 people have been infected with the virus across nine countries, and 8,981 of them have died, according to the latest numbers.
All but 15 of the deaths have occurred in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Massive efforts and funds have been poured into trying to rid the three west African countries of the Ebola scourge, and in recent weeks a sharp drop in new cases gave rise to optimism that the worst was over.
Ensuring safe burials of the highly contagious bodies of those who die from the virus has been a top priority.
But yesterday's numbers showed the message still had not gotten through, with devastating consequences in Guinea, where a single unsafe burial in early January in the eastern prefecture of Lola, near the Ivory Coast, led to at least 11 infections there, the WHO said.
And with a prefecture near the Mali border recording its first cases, the WHO said Mali and Senegal were planning a meeting with Guinea to strengthen the surveillance coordination.
Guinea counts a total of 2,975 cases, including 1,944 deaths, according to the latest statistics.
The situation in Liberia, once the hardest-hit country and counting a towering total of 8,745 cases and 3,746 deaths, meanwhile appeared under control.
But the WHO expressed deep concern over the situation in Sierra Leone, which counts the most cases, at 10,740, including 3,276 deaths.
The UN agency warned of "intense transmission" in the west of the country.