We need $1 billion to contain Ebola crisis - UN

$1 billion (£620 million) is needed if the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa is to be controlled, United Nations officials said yesterday.

Valerie Amos warned of threat to virus-hit African nations. Picture: Getty
Valerie Amos warned of threat to virus-hit African nations. Picture: Getty

As the United States deployed thousands of troops to try to bring the crisis under control, figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday revealed that the virus has killed 2,461 people – half of the 4,985 infected – and the toll has doubled in the past month.

General Bruce Aylward, assistant director of WHO said: “This health crisis we’re facing is unparalleled in modern times. We don’t know where the numbers are going on this.”

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He said WHO’s previous forecast that the number of cases could reach 20,000 no longer seemed high given the scale of the outbreak. But he said the number could be kept within the tens of thousands with “a much faster response”.

Also in Geneva, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos warned “if not dealt with effectively now, Ebola could become a major humanitarian crisis in countries currently affected”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is to launch a “global response coalition” in New York tomorrow, said Dr David Nabarro, senior UN co-ordinator for Ebola.

Dr Naborro said: “The amount for which we requested was about $100m a month ago and now it is $1bn so our ‘ask’ has gone up ten times in a month. Because of the way the outbreak is advancing, the level of surge we need to do is unprecedented, it is massive.”

Yesterday the US said it would send 3,000 troops to help tackle the outbreak as part of a ramped-up response including a major deployment in Liberia, where the epidemic is spiralling fastest out of control.

The US response includes plans to build 17 treatment centres, train thousands of healthcare workers and establish a military control centre for co-ordination.

WHO has said it needs foreign medical teams with 500-600 experts as well as at least 10,000 local health workers, numbers that may rise if the number of cases increases, as widely expected. So far Cuba and China have said they will send medical staff to Sierra Leone. Cuba will deploy 165 people in October while China is sending a mobile laboratory with 59 staff to speed up testing for the disease.

WHO has not issued any ­estimate of cases or deaths in the country since 5 September and director general Margaret Chan has said there is not a single bed available for Ebola patients there.

Liberia appealed for US help last week.

A UN official in Liberia said on Friday that her colleagues had resorted to telling locals to use plastic bags to fend off the killer virus, for want of any other protective equipment.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the charity leading the fight against Ebola, said it was overwhelmed. Joanne Liu, president of MSF said: “We are honestly at a loss as to how a single, private NGO is providing the bulk of isolation units and beds,

“Highly infectious people are forced to return home, only to infect others and continue the spread of this deadly virus. All for a lack of international ­response.”

On Monday, a senior US official said its plan will “ensure the entire international response effort is more effective and helps to turn the tide”.