African leaders to launch $125m Ebola emergency battle plan

African leaders to launch $125m Ebola emergency battle plan
Medical staff working with Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) prepare to bring food to patients kept in an isolation area at the MSF Ebola treatment centre in Kailahun July 20, 2014.

CONAKRY - The head of the World Health Organisation and presidents of the west African countries suffering the world's worst-ever Ebola outbreak were due to meet in Guinea on Friday to launch a US$100 million (S$124.86 million) emergency response plan.

The leaders of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia will gather in Conakry to organise the deployment of "several hundred" medical personnel, the WHO said, to help overstretched workers and facilities struggling with an epidemic which has claimed nearly 730 lives.

The plan will also bolster efforts to prevent and detect suspected cases, urge better border surveillance, and reinforce WHO's sub-regional outbreak coordination centre in Guinea.

The meeting comes after US, German and French health authorities issued warnings against travel to the three African countries to stop the disease spreading to their shores.

"It is like fighting a forest fire. If you leave behind even one burning ember, one case undetected, it could reignite the epidemic," said Tom Frieden, the chief of the US's top public health body.

A hospital in the southern United States said it was preparing to receive an Ebola patient "within the next several days" for treatment in its specialised containment unit.

Meanwhile Nigeria quarantined two people who had "primary contact" with a man who died of Ebola in Lagos last week as west Africa battled to tame the outbreak.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are struggling to contain an epidemic that has infected more than 1,300 people since the start of the year, hit major cities and sparked alarm over its possible spread to other nations.

The WHO raised the death toll by 57 to 729 on Thursday, announcing that 122 new cases had been detected between Thursday and Sunday last week.

Sierra Leone's leader Ernest Bai Koroma has announced a state-of-emergency, quarantining Ebola-hit areas and cancelling foreign trips by ministers, while Liberia has closed all of its schools and put government workers on leave.

'Nearing catastrophe'

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf warned Thursday the crisis was "nearing a catastrophe", appealing for more doctors and supplies.

Early denial about the dangers of the contagious disease among Liberians has now "turned into fear and panic" she told the CNN news network.

"There are dead bodies all over the place and they now know that it's real. They know that it's deadly and they are now beginning to respond," Sirleaf said.

The Conakry summit marks the first time heads of state in west Africa have met to discuss a joint response to the crisis.

Ivory Coast is also expected to be represented, as a member of the Mano River Union bloc which groups the nations, although it has yet to register any Ebola cases.

Ebola, which has no vaccine, causes severe muscular pains, fever, headaches and, in the worst cases, unstoppable bleeding.

It has killed around two-thirds of those it has infected since its emergence in 1976, although the death rate in the current outbreak is lower, at 55 per cent.

Fears that it could spread to other continents through air travel have been growing, with European and Asian countries on alert alongside African countries outside the Ebola crisis zone.

In Britain, Sierra Leone cyclist Moses Sesay was quarantined and tested for Ebola at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, before being given the all-clear, the athlete told a British newspaper.

Leading medical charity Doctors Without Borders warned the crisis would only get worse and said there was no overarching strategy to handle the outbreak.

The US Peace Corps announced earlier this week it was pulling hundreds of volunteers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Elsewhere in Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo, home to some of the continent's largest transport hubs, said they had enhanced screening at border points and airports.

Pan-African airlines Arik and ASKY have halted flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone, while Asia-Pacific nations from Hong Kong to Australia have announced tighter security measures at airports, some warning against travel to the Ebola-hit countries.

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