As the worst Ebola outbreak in recorded history continues to accelerate in West Africa, with the World Health Organization announcing Thursday that up to 20,000 people could be infected throughout its course, experts and aid workers urge the rest of the world to take action and responsibility for the growing crisis.

“The international community has played a very detrimental role in de-funding and de-prioritizing the public health infrastructure in affected countries,” Emira Woods, expert on U.S. foreign policy in Africa and social impact director at ThoughtWorks, a technology firm committed to social and economic justice, told Common Dreams.

According to WHO figures released Thursday, the deadly virus has already killed 1,552 people, with 3,069 infections reported in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. However, the actual number of cases might be between two and four times greater than currently known, the organization reports. Nearly 40 percent of the total number of reported cases have occurred within the past three weeks alone, indicating the outbreak continues to grow exponentially since it first emerged in March.”There needs to be a concerted effort and political will to rebuild public health infrastructure with the understanding that health care is a right for all of us.” 
—Emira Woods

The disease was first reported in Guinea and has since spread, hitting Liberia the hardest. Nigerian authorities announced on Wednesday the country’s first Ebola death outside the city limits of Lagos. An unrelated Ebola outbreak has hit the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Meanwhile, treatment centers are overwhelmed with patients, leaving the infected and dying without adequate care. Humanitarian aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported Wednesday that in the Liberian capital of Monrovia,  which lies at the center of the outbreak, “[m]uch of the city’s medical system has shut down over fears of the virus among staff members and patients, leaving many people with no health care at all, generating an emergency within the emergency.”

In addition to health systems, the outbreak is also shutting down market-places, farmlands, and food shipments, leading to a food security crises in some areas, including villages and slums under quarantine.

Experts and aid workers say that the onus is on the international community to take appropriate responsibility for the epidemic and its related social costs.