The presidents of three West African nations pleaded Thursday for much faster help from the world in battling a deadly Ebola outbreak that’s killed nearly 3,000 people and might infect more than a million others in the coming months as the virus continues to spread.
“Partners and friends, based on understandable fears, have ostracized us,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said at a meeting on the Ebola crisis at the United Nations. “The world has taken some time to fully appreciate and adequately respond to the enormity of our tragedy.”
Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, who took the drastic step Thursday of putting more than a million people under quarantine, said the disease his nation was fighting was “worse than terrorism.”
“Ebola as a disease is such that even an hour too late leads to exponential transmissions,” he said. “That is why faster response, of a kind similar to responses to natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, is required.”
The president of Guinea, Alpha Conde, attended in person, while the presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone stayed in their countries and participated by video.
The United Nations, through the World Health Organization and the World Bank, as well as countries, led by the United States, have pledged to respond to the Ebola epidemic. But they acknowledged Thursday that it hasn’t been enough.
“We are not moving fast enough. We are not doing enough,” President Barack Obama said. “Right now, everybody has the best of intentions, but people are not putting in the kinds of resources that are necessary to put a stop to this epidemic. There’s still a significant gap between where we are and where we need to be.”
An estimated 2,917 people have died from Ebola in West Africa, while 6,262 cases have been reported, the WHO said Thursday. Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone have been affected.
Liberia and Sierra Leone could see up to 1.4 million new cases by the end of January without stronger efforts to fight the virus, according to a report that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this week.
WHO Director Margaret Chan warned world leaders that the outbreak will probably get worse before it gets better.
“This is a fast-moving epidemic that got ahead of everyone at the start and is still running ahead, jumping over everything we put in place to try to slow it,” she said.
“We are talking about nothing less than a potential meltdown of this continent,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said.
The African presidents asked for more treatment centers, labs, equipment, doctors and nurses, additional training for health care workers and logistical support to improve response times, as well as for the lifting of flight bans to and from their countries.
Some nations and governmental organizations announced additional resources at the meeting, to applause: The World Bank will contribute another $170 million, bringing its total to $400 million. The European Union announced another 30 million euros, on top of almost 150 million. Even tiny Timor-Leste, in Southeast Asia, announced that it would commit $1 million.
Obama announced last week that the U.S. is dispatching 3,000 military personnel to Africa and is opening a U.S.-led joint command center in Liberia and 17 new Ebola treatment centers that will each care for as many as 100 patients.
On Thursday, top U.S. lawmakers approved the use of leftover money from the Afghanistan War for the Ebola fight, though just $50 million of Obama’s $1 billion request was approved for use immediately.
“This is not one where there should be a lot of wrangling and people waiting to see who else is doing what,” Obama said. “Everybody has got to move fast in order for us to make a difference.”
But international health organizations say the global response is inadequate to stem the tide of the disease.
Joanne Liu, the president of Doctors Without Borders, said “massive, direct action” was needed.
“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome. But they will mean little unless they are translated into immediate action,” she said. “The reality on the ground today is this: The promised surge has not yet delivered. . . . Today, Ebola is winning.”
On Friday, Obama will convene a meeting of representatives from 44 countries to talk about how to make the world safe from infectious-disease threats, including Ebola, as part of a program he launched in February.
This week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed two people, a special envoy for Ebola and a special representative and head of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, while the State Department named Nancy Powell, a former ambassador to India who’d served as the coordinator in the fight against avian flu, as Ebola coordinator.