Fight against ebola ‘far from over’ as US discusses aid package

Health workers on the front line of the ebola crisis say the need for urgent help isn’t letting up, as the US Congress began considering President Barack Obama’s $6.2bn (€4.9bn) emergency aid request to fight the disease.

Despite reports that the number of infections is slowing in parts of west Africa, cases still are rising in other areas.

Aid organisations say thousands of healthcare workers are needed to treat ebola over the next few months.

“We’re not yet at a point where we can have confidence that we’re turning the corner, even in Liberia,” said Andy Gleadle of the International Medical Corps, which is running a treatment centre in Liberia and plans to open another in that country and two more in Sierra Leone.

Even with increasing global attention to the epidemic, it takes time to train new health workers, build field hospitals, and buy protective equipment for doctors and nurses.

“Let’s say President Obama gives us another $5m tomorrow morning — which would be very nice thank you — but it takes weeks to absorb that funding and implement it on the ground,” added Gleadle, who is responsible for the charity’s response in Sierra Leone.

The Senate Appropriations Committee last night questioned Obama administration officials about the US response to the ebola outbreak as it began evaluating the emergency aid request.

It includes $4.64bn in immediate spending to fight the epidemic in west Africa, shore up US preparedness, and speed the development and testing of ebola vaccines and treatments.

More than $1.5bn would be for a contingency fund to deal with any unexpected events.

However, money doesn’t solve everything, said Benoit Carpentier, a spokesman with the International Federation of the Red Cross, whose teams are carrying out safe burials and running a treatment centre.

Time might be the scarcest resource now, he said.

“Time to reach remote villages and explain how the virus is transmitted, time to persuade people to change their behaviour so they don’t spread the disease, time to track down people who have come in contact with the sick.

“It’s difficult for health workers and others to keep up.

“The situation does change quite dramatically from one day to the next, one week to the next,” said D Tom Frieden, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Cases continue to pop up in new areas across the three hard-hit west African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, he said.

“The challenges are really daunting, and one of the critical needs is for speed and flexibility” as those clusters emerge, Frieden said.


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