‘Every nation’ must help in fight against Ebola: Liberia
Liberia's president has made an impassioned plea for all nations to commit to the fight against Ebola ahead of a meeting by EU foreign ministers Monday, under pressure to scale up their response to the escalating epidemic.
Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said a generation of Africans were at risk of “being lost to economic catastrophe” because of the epidemic, warning that the “time for talking or theorising is over”.
“This fight requires a commitment from every nation that has the capacity to help — whether that is with emergency funds, medical supplies or clinical expertise,” she said in an open letter to the world published by the BBC Sunday.
“From governments to international organisations, financial institutions to NGOs, politicians to ordinary people on the street in any corner of the world, we all have a stake in the battle against Ebola.”
The worst-ever outbreak of the deadly virus has killed more than 4,500 people, almost all in west Africa, with close to 2,500 deaths registered in worst-hit Liberia.
Some countries have managed to get a handle on the outbreak, with Africa’s most populous nation Nigeria expected to be declared free of the deadly virus on Monday after 42 days without registering any new infections.
But several isolated cases among health workers in the US and Europe have sparked fear that the epidemic could turn global and prompted Western countries to ramp up their response.
China said on Sunday it was “very concerned about the seriousness” of the crisis, and pledged to start joint research with France to combat the epidemic.
– ‘Disaster of our generation’ –
Aid agency Oxfam, which has operations in the two countries that have borne the brunt of the crisis, Liberia and Sierra Leone, warned Ebola could become the “definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation”.
The stark analysis comes ahead of a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Monday to devise a new strategy to combat the outbreak, including by freeing up more funds and sending skilled staff to Africa.
“There is a very strong political focus on this as the most immediate crisis facing us,” a European diplomat said ahead of the Luxembourg talks.
Another EU diplomat said Britain — which already has a navy ship bound for Sierra Leone laden with medical staff and supplies — hoped to “galvanise EU action on Ebola”.
“There is a real sense that this is a tipping point and we must get to grips with it now,” said the diplomat. “If we can deal with it in the country, we don’t have to deal with it at home.”
One diplomat said there are plans for three nations to spearhead global aid to the worst-hit countries: the United States for Liberia, Britain for Sierra Leone and France for Guinea.
The World Bank has warned the world is losing the battle against the deadly virus, which spreads via contact with bodily fluids and for which there is no licensed treatment or vaccine.
A global UN appeal for nearly $1 billion (785 billion euros) has so far fallen short, with only $385.9 million given by governments and agencies, with a further $225.8 million promised.
– Hysteria and fear –
With panic spreading in Western countries about the spread of the tropical disease, US President Barack Obama named an “Ebola czar” to coordinate crisis response.
Obama also cautioned against “hysteria” after a string of Ebola false alarms among a US public spooked by the news that two American nurses had contracted the virus after treating a Liberian patient who died on October 8.
A cruise ship carrying a lab worker suspected of contact with Ebola returned to the US state of Texas on Sunday after media reports the woman had tested negative for the deadly disease.
“This is a serious disease, but we can’t give in to hysteria or fear,” Obama said.
An entrance to the Pentagon was closed on Friday after a woman vomited in a parking lot. US authorities later found no evidence that she had contracted Ebola.
US media reported panicked responses in some communities, including a group of Mississippi parents who pulled their children from school because the principal had visited a country in southern Africa.
The United States, Britain and Canada were joined by France this weekend in screening air passengers from Ebola-hit zones ahead of a review of EU practices this week.
Belgium’s prime minister said it would start screening passengers from west Africa on Monday.
Obama has played down the idea of a travel ban on flights from west Africa, as World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim criticised countries for being overly focused on securing their own borders, rather than helping tackle the epidemic at its source.
As of October 14, 4,555 people had died from Ebola out of a total of 9,216 cases registered in seven countries, the World Health Organization said.