Liberia hopes US Ebola aid pushes world to do more
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) -- People critically ill with Ebola languishing in an ambulance for hours as paramedics seek a place for them. Treatment centers filling up as soon as they are opened. The situation is so dire in Liberia that its president welcomed America's pledge to send troops and treatment centers but said much more needs to be done.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Wednesday urged the world community to redouble efforts to battle the disease, which could spread into other countries. It has affected five countries so far.
"Our American partners realize Liberia cannot defeat Ebola alone," Sirleaf said in a written statement. "We hope this decision by the United States will spur the rest of the international community into action ... The entire community of nations has a stake in ending this crisis."
President Barrack Obama announced Tuesday that he will order 3,000 U.S. military personnel to West Africa. The U.S. is also planning on delivering 17 treatment centers with 100 beds each to Liberia. Ebola is believed to have killed at least 2,400 people in the largest outbreak ever and sickened nearly 5,000, though the real toll may be much higher.
Australia announced Wednesday that it is providing another $6.4 million to the fight, while Germany is considering providing a mobile hospital and transport planes.
The three hardest hit countries - Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea - are desperately short of everything needed to contain it, from health workers to the hazard suits needed to protect them.
The World Bank warned Wednesday that, if the disease is not quickly contained, it could deal a "catastrophic blow" to already fragile economies. An analysis showed that, in a worst case scenario, the impact from Ebola could take more than 11 percentage points off Liberia's gross domestic product, plunging it into a deep contraction.
In Liberia, many of those who have come down with the dreaded disease which is spread through contact with bodily fluids are either not picked up or left to languish in emergency vehicles while waiting for a bed to open up.
One ambulance dispatcher said he knew of at least 30 people in Monrovia, the capital, who were waiting to be brought to a treatment centers. Some were waiting in a hospital not equipped to treat Ebola patients, he said.
"The other day we rushed some critically ill patients to one of the treatment centers, but because there was no space, we had the patients waiting in the ambulance for six hours," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to share the information with the media.
Officials have warned that infected people who are turned away from treatment centers often return home where they infect their relatives and neighbors.
American officials expect to have the first treatment centers open in a few weeks. It is unclear when all of the personnel and equipment will be on the ground. Even as Sirleaf praised Obama's commitment, which is among the biggest from any single country, she noted that the plans have yet to be formalized.
Isolating the sick from the healthy is the only way to stop the outbreak because there is no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola, and researchers are racing to test drugs.
In Britain, former nurse Ruth Atkins became the first person in the country to receive an experimental Ebola vaccine in an early trial to test its safety. Atkins, 48, got an injection of the shot - developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline - on Wednesday in Oxford. She is the first of 60 healthy volunteers in the U.K. who will get the vaccine, developed from a modified chimpanzee cold virus and an Ebola protein.
Scientists hope the trial will be finished by the end of 2014. If the vaccine proves safe, it could then be used to vaccinate health workers in West Africa in a larger trial to test its effectiveness. A similar trial testing of the same vaccine has already begun in the U.S.
The U.N. has said it will cost $1 billion to contain Ebola.
Associated Press writers Maria Cheng in London, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.