Over 2m Sierra Leoneans, 33% of country, can't move over Ebola as global race to halt virus spread heats up

Bucking trend by several African states, Group of Seven vows to keep open vital air, sea links with worst-hit West African countries.

WORLD leaders gathered at the United Nations on Thursday made fresh pledges of assistance in battling the growing Ebola crisis in West Africa, Sierra Leone, one of the three worst affected countries, took the drastic step of putting another three of its 14 districts under quarantine.

This means that, with two districts already locked down, more than a third of the population of six million – over two million people - can no longer move freely.

“My country is at the battlefront of one of the biggest life and death challenges facing the global human community,” Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma warned the UN by video link from Freetown.

The three worst Ebola-hit nations received some good news, when the Group of Seven nations vowed to keep open vital air and sea links with their countries. Ironically, this bucks the trend of African countries like Kenya, South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Togo, who were seem as too quick to cut off air links to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The West African Ebola outbreak has so far killed 635 people in Guinea, 1,677 in Liberia, 597 in Sierra Leone, and 8 in Nigeria where there has been no new case reported for over two weeks, and President Goodluck Jonathan declared, to much applause, at the UN  General Assembly that his country had beaten down the virus.

A UN mission on Ebola set up last week is due to deploy in west Africa on Sunday, bringing supplies and equipment including protective suits, trucks, helicopters and other aircraft.

Losing trust

On its part, Liberia welcomed global pledges of action on the Ebola epidemic, admitting on Friday that the government was losing the trust of its people with the outbreak still out of control.

“We are happy to hear that the entire world now understands the urgency of the reaction to threat of Ebola,” Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown told AFP.

“We hope that the commitment will be quickly followed by action because if this drags for long, the populations of the various countries will begin to lose patience and they will blame our governments.”

Health systems in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been overwhelmed by the epidemic, which has killed 3,000 people, and are in dire need of doctors, nurses, medical equipment and supplies.

US President Barack Obama led calls for a ramped up response, urging governments, businesses and international organisations to join the fight.

UN officials could not provide an immediate tally of the total pledges made at the UN meeting but the UN’s coordinator for Ebola, David Nabarro, said countries had “responded with generosity.”

Canada announced a contribution of $27 million dollars to the effort and France said it has set aside 70 million euros in a battle that the United Nations estimates will require close to one billion dollars.

The European Union said it would add €30 million to the current €150 million it has provided to fight Ebola.

 ‘Beyond government control’

But Obama warned: “We are not doing enough”—and UN officials said a 20-fold surge in assistance is needed to come to grips with the outbreak.

“Right now, everybody has the best of intentions, but people are not putting the kinds of resources necessary to put a stop to this epidemic,” he said, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Liberian Information Brown explained to AFP that Liberians were gradually losing trust in their government, with the outbreak still out of control six months after the country announced its first case.

“We told our people that this was beyond the control of governments and that only international commitment could free us from this.

“This is a serious threat for our stability and as president Obama said, the world needs to react fast otherwise this will turn to serious security crisis.”

The United States is sending 3,000 troops to Liberia to help battle the contagion and has mobilised its experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help beat back the virus. Cuba is sending nearly 165 nurses and doctors, the largest contribution by a single country, and China too is sending more medical personnel.

The African Union too, criticised for being slow, finally sprang into action. It is sending a team of health workers and other specialists to West Africa to help tackle the Ebola outbreak. The first batch of 30 volunteers will be deployed to Liberia.

The World Bank has warned the epidemic could drain billions of dollars from the affected countries’ economies if it’s not contained.  And the international think tank International Crisis Group (ICG) has warned that the Ebola outbreak could unravel years of efforts to stabilise the region and turn into a political chaos and, potentially, “collapse”.

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