The Ebola outbreak threatens to become a political crisis that could unravel years of effort to stabilise West Africa, a think tank has warned.
“The worst-hit countries now face widespread chaos and, potentially, collapse,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) said.
The world’s largest outbreak of Ebola has caused 2,811 deaths so far, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The UN has warned that infections could treble to 20,000 by November.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said this could happen if efforts to tackle the outbreak were not stepped up.
Both Liberia and Sierra Leone are recovering from brutal civil wars and Guinea has faced coups and ethnic unrest.
“Adding social breakdown to the epidemic would create disaster perhaps impossible to manage,” the ICG statement said.
The international community needs to provide more personnel and resources “not only to the immediate medical response but also to the longer-term problems of strengthening governance and rebuilding health-care systems”, it said.
The Ebola crisis has exposed citizens’ lack of trust in their government in “already fragile societies”, the group said.
In three worst-hit countries, “past civil conflicts fuelled by local and regional antagonisms could resurface”, it said.
A meeting is expected to take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York to consider the next steps.
With warnings of soaring food prices and possible shortages, reopening borders with appropriate surveillance measures must be a top priority for West African governments, the group advised.
“Despite rhetoric to the contrary, West African governments have tried to manage these crises unilaterally, ignoring – as demonstrated once again by the rapid spread of Ebola – that their citizenries are deeply linked and interdependent,” the ICG statement said.
While countries like the US, UK, France and China and Cuba were ramping up their responses by setting up Ebola health facilities and sending personnel, special attention also needed to be paid to Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia, countries near the epicentre which both have inadequate health systems, it said.
New figures suggest that 70% of those infected with Ebola in West Africa have died, higher than previously reported.