Senegal declared Ebola-free, UN appeals for cash to boost battle
Western countries scrambled Friday to ward off a feared global spread of Ebola amid fresh UN appeals for funds to fight the raging epidemic.
Despite the bleak outlook, there was good news from Senegal, declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization after the benchmark of 42 days passed without any new cases.
But with Senegal's single, non-fatal Ebola case a drop in an ocean of 9,216 cases and 4,555 deaths worldwide, international alarm continued to spiral.
"We are losing the battle," due to a lack of international solidarity, World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim warned on Friday.
"Certain countries are only worried about their own borders," he said describing the situation as "very worrying".
The epidemic, which began in Guinea in December, has spun out of control in west Africa and the UN said its anti-Ebola war chest was far from filled.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said a call for donations to a special UN trust fund had barely been heeded, leaving the world body with "a very serious problem."
Experts warn that the infection rate could hit 10,000 a week by early December.
Despite $20 million of pledges, there was only $100,000 in the reserve fund -- reportedly donated by Colombia -- Ban told reporters in New York.
An overall UN Ebola appeal for $988 million had meanwhile garnered $377 million, or 38 percent of the money needed.
Another $217 million had been pledged, said Jen Laerke, spokesman for the UN's humanitarian arm OCHA.
"But that's not money in the bank," Laerke told reporters in Geneva.
The top donors so far are the World Bank, with $105 million, the US, with $90 million, and the African Development Bank, with $45 million, he said.
Private donors have provided $34 million, while the European Commission has paid in $10.5 million.
Ban praised the US, Britain and France for their efforts, but urged others to provide monetary and logistical support.
"We need to turn pledges into action. We need more doctors, nurses, equipment, treatment centres and medical evacuation capacities," he said.
The East African Community bloc comprising Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania announced it was sending over 600 health workers to the three worst-hit countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Ban's predecessor as UN chief, Kofi Annan, meanwhile accused wealthy countries of dragging their feet because the crisis began in Africa.
"In fact when you look at the evolution of the crisis, the international community really woke up when the disease got to America and Europe," the Ghanaian told the BBC.
- Health workers on front line -
A string of health workers have been evacuated back to Europe from Africa with Ebola, but the only confirmed case of transmission on the continent so far is a Spanish nurse in Madrid who cared for a missionary who died after returning to Spain.
In the United States, two nurses have now fallen ill, to the embarrassment of health authorities, who faced questioning about how the disease had spread and why one nurse was allowed to board a crowded flight.
Both nurses were involved in the care of a Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, who died on October 8. It was the first Ebola case diagnosed in the US.
Western countries have also scrambled to beef up airport security.
European Union health commissioner Tonio Borg said the 28-nation bloc would review exit screening of travellers from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
- Senegal lauded for Ebola fight -
Senegal's Ebola scare involved a student who crossed from Guinea shortly before the border was shut on August 21, and was diagnosed a week later.
Thanks to rapid care, he recovered by September 5, and returned to Guinea after two weeks.
"Senegal's response is a good example of what to do when faced with an imported case of Ebola," WHO said, lauding the government for having "reacted quickly to stop the disease from spreading".
Senegal's response included identifying and monitoring 74 close contacts of the patient, prompt testing of all suspected cases, stepped-up surveillance at border posts and nationwide public awareness campaigns, the UN agency underlined.
Experts agreed that tight surveillance would pay huge dividends.
"This shows that the virus can be contained and the outbreak controlled by contact tracing, quarantine, good diagnostics and barrier protection," said David Evans, professor of virology at England's University of Warwick.
"These control methods have been successful in all previous Ebola outbreaks," Evans said.
"However, the scale of the current epidemic in West Africa makes the implementation of these procedures much more difficult, meaning that the virus is likely to circulate there for several more months before being controlled," he warned.
Senegal could not be officially cleared until two full 21-day Ebola incubation periods of the disease had elapsed.
Nigeria, where 20 people were infected and eight died, is expected to be declared Ebola-free on Monday. But neither is out of danger.
WHO is ramping up its efforts to help 15 African countries defend themselves against the virus -- notably with measures to better protect health workers, who are paying a heavy price, with 236 deaths out of 427 cases across the affected countries.
© 2014 AFP