by Staff Writers
Monrovia (AFP) Oct 19, 2014
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.
Texas hospital apologizes over handling of Ebola case
The Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas treated a Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of Ebola on October 8. Two nurses who cared for him subsequently contracted the disease and are now being treated in specialist facilities.
"As an institution, we made mistakes in handling this very difficult challenge," the hospital said in a "letter to our community" that was published in Sunday's Dallas Morning News.
The apology came as a lab worker from the hospital who had been on a cruise returned to Texas. Because of fears she may have had contact with Duncan's fluids, she had voluntarily remained in isolation in her cabin.
Carnival Cruise Lines said in a statement that a blood test confirmed she was not infected, and she got off the boat after it returned to Galveston. The liner had been refused entry to Belize and Mexico over fears of the disease.
Duncan had flown from Liberia to Texas to visit family, arriving in Dallas on September 20. He began feeling sick four days later, but was not hospitalized until September 28.
He was sent home after an initial visit to the emergency room, even after he reported Ebola-like symptoms and said he had recently traveled from Liberia, the hardest-hit nation in the current outbreak.
"The fact that Mr Duncan had traveled to Africa was not communicated effectively among the care team, though it was in his medical chart," the hospital said in its letter, which was signed by Texas Health CEO Barclay Berdan.
"We did not correctly diagnose his symptoms as those of Ebola. For this, we are deeply sorry."
The letter added that the facility "did not live up to the high standards that are the heart of our hospital's history, mission and commitment."
Two nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, who cared for Duncan are now fighting the disease. The hospital said it was looking into how they became infected, despite their compliance with equipment and safety procedures.
The women are currently hospitalized in Atlanta, Georgia and Bethesda, Maryland.
Speaking on ABC's Sunday morning news show, the head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, said US health authorities were implementing new procedures for health care workers treating Ebola patients, including ensuring that no skin is exposed at all.
Also Sunday, the Pentagon announced it would prepare and train a 30-person medical support team.
If needed, the team could provide rapid assistance to civilian doctors in the United States, the Pentagon said, noting that the team would not be sent to West Africa.
Ebola has killed more than 4,500 people in an outbreak centered in West Africa.
Epidemics on Earth - Bird Flu, HIV/AIDS, Ebola
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