By Connie Cass, AP
WASHINGTON–The presidents of three Ebola-stricken West African nations made urgent pleas for money, doctors and hospital beds Thursday and representatives of nations gathered for financial meetings promised more help.
“Our people are dying,” said President Ernest Bai Koroma. He described devastating effects of “this evil virus” — children made orphans, doctors and nurses dying, an overwhelmed medical system that can’t keep up.
Koroma spoke by video from Sierra Leone to an Ebola summit at the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington. He said the world’s response hasn’t kept pace with the spread of Ebola, and “a tragedy unforeseen in modern times” is threatening everyone.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a 20-fold surge in international aid to fight the outbreak.
“For those who have yet to pledge, I say please do so soon,” Ban said. “This is an unforgiving disease.”
At the meeting here, President Alpha Conde of Guinea asked for money, supplies, medicine, equipment and training of health care workers.
“Our countries are in a very fragile situation,” Conde said through a translator. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia also appeared by videoconference to seek a rapid increase in aid.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim praised pledges from the United States and the European Commission to evacuate health care workers who become infected while responding to the crisis in West Africa, to encourage doctors and nurses to risk their lives to help.
“One of the sticking points of getting foreign medical staffs into these three countries has been the lack of medical evacuation,” Kim told reporters afterward.
Doctors, nurses and hospital staff are especially at risk because Ebola is spread through bodily fluids such as blood and vomit. More than 370 health care workers have been sickened or killed by the virus in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
The U.S. military is building a hospital in Liberia for infected medical personnel, expected to be finished by the end of the month.
Kim said that more health centers must be built quickly to ensure West Africans have faith that they can get the care they need in their own communities, and no longer fear that Ebola centers are places where people go to die.
That is also the best way to stop the spread of Ebola into other nations and to counter the fear that magnifies the disease’s economic damage, Kim said.
“Trying to block your borders or isolate those countries in some way is not going to work,” he cautioned other nations.
Kim, a doctor who formerly led the World Health Organization’s global AIDS treatment program, said studies of past disease outbreaks, such as the SARS virus, show that 80 percent to 90 percent of the economic impact comes from “the fear factor that surrounds the outbreak.”
A World Bank report this week estimated that the economic toll of the largest Ebola outbreak in history could reach US$32.6 billion if the disease continues to spread in West Africa through next year. More than 3,800 people have died.
The World Bank has committed US$400 million to the three nations, and the International Monetary Fund is providing US$130 million in emergency financing. The IMF stands ready to do more, said Managing Director Christine Lagarde, adding this crisis is a rare occasion when it’s good for nations to take on more debt.
The United Nations has estimated it will cost nearly US$1 billion to stop the Ebola outbreak.
The U.N. and individual countries are sending money and aid, including troops coming from Britain and the United States to build treatment centers. Koroma said more help is urgently needed, requesting more than 5,000 doctors, nurses and medical support staff and 1,500 patient beds for Sierra Leone.