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Sep 17, 2014 2:42 PM

Liberia president praises US for Ebola help pledge

The Associated Press

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 a U.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 after already hitting five West African nations.

"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."

Even as the promises of aid came, the risks of such help were underscored by yet another international health care worker who has fallen ill while trying to help sick patients in Liberia. Doctors Without Borders also known by its French acronym MSF said the female French employee would be evacuated to a special treatment center in France after being placed into isolation on Tuesday.

"MSF applies very strict protocols of protection for its staff before, during and after their time in a country affected by the current Ebola outbreak," said Brice de le Vingne, MSF Director of Operations. "This dramatically reduces the risk of transmission of the disease. However, the risk is part of such an intervention, and sadly our teams are not spared."

At least seven international health care and aid workers already have been taken abroad for treatment, and concerns over doctor infections have made it difficult to recruit the foreign help needed to combat the epidemic.

President Barack 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. 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.

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.

Also Wednesday, Australia announced 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.

In a $1 billion Ebola plan released on Tuesday, the World Health Organization estimated it might have to evacuate about seven international health workers every month as the outbreak continues.

"Evacuating sick (health workers) is an awful situation that no one wants to be in," said Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO assistant-general in charge of emergencies. "This is just part of crisis management. In any emergency situation, you have to take care of your first responders who get infected."

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.

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.


Maria Cheng reported from London. Associated Press writers Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal; Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.


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