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EU to scale up Ebola response

Sunday, October 19, 2014 - 17:47

Paris

European foreign ministers meet on Monday under pressure to scale up their reponse to the Ebola epidemic after warnings it could become the "disaster of our generation".

Ahead of the talks, Aid agency Oxfam, which works in the two worst-hit countries - Liberia and Sierra Leone - issued a stark call for more troops, funding and medical staff to be sent to the west African epicentre of the outbreak.

"There is a very strong political focus on this as the most immediate crisis facing us," a European diplomat said ahead of the meeting in Luxembourg.

Another EU diplomat said Britain - which 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." The worst-ever outbreak of the deadly virus has so far killed more than 4,500 people, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but isolated cases have now begun to appear in Europe and the United States.

Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring said the world was "in the eye of a storm" as the charity warned Ebola "could become the definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation".

"Countries that have failed to commit troops, doctors and enough funding are in danger of costing lives," he said.

Part of the solution, the EU diplomats said, was giving international medics - on the frontline in the Ebola battle - the confidence they would receive EU-level care if they get sick, with access to medical evacuation flights.

The World Bank has warned the battle is being lost against the disease, which spreads via contact with bodily fluids and for which there is no licensed treatment or vaccine.

A global UN appeal for nearly US$1 billion to fight the spread of the disease has so far fallen short, although a spokesman told AFP more money was coming in daily.

Out of US$988 million requested a month ago, the UN said on Saturday US$385.9 million had already been given by a slew of governments and agencies, with a further US$225.8 million promised.

As the death toll in Sierra Leone rose to 1,200, the country said it was putting Defence Minister Alfred Paolo Conteh in charge of a new national Ebola response centre.

With panic spreading in Western countries fearing a spread of the tropical disease, US President Barack Obama named an "Ebola czar" to coordinate crisis response.

Mr 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 Ebola after treating a Liberian patient who died on Oct 8.

"This is a serious disease, but we can't give in to hysteria or fear," Mr Obama said. "We have to be guided by the science."

AFP