US appoints ebola tsar as criticism mounts

President Barack Obama appointed an ebola tsar for the US, and the government said a Texas health worker who may have had contact with specimens from an ebola patient was isolated on a cruise ship.

Obama, who has faced sharp criticism from some lawmakers over efforts to contain the deadly virus, appointed Ron Klain, a lawyer who previously served as chief of staff to vice presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, the White House said.

The cruise ship incident added to growing concerns about the possible spread of ebola after two nurses who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with ebola in the US, contracted the virus, which has killed nearly 4,500 people, mostly in West Africa.

The worst hit countries have been Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and the World Food Program said that food prices in those countries has risen by an average of 24%, forcing some families to reduce their intake to one meal a day.

The Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital worker aboard the cruise ship, who did not have direct contact with the now-deceased Liberian patient but could have processed his bodily fluids, left on Sunday on a cruise from Galveston, Texas, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The health worker has been self-monitoring since October 6 and has not developed a fever or other symptoms of ebola, the State Department said.

Carnival Cruise Lines said it had been notified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that a passenger on the Carnival Magic was a lab supervisor at Texas Health Presbyterian. It said she was deemed to be “very low risk”.

The government is working to return the woman and her husband to the US before the ship completes its cruise.

The White House said the State Department was working to secure their transportation home.

A White House official said the cruise ship had stopped in Belize but officials there would not allow the passenger to leave the vessel.

The ship can carry 3,690 passengers and 1,367 crew, according to the company’s website.

In a sign the disease can be beaten, the World Health Organisation said the West African country of Senegal was now ebola-free, but still vulnerable to further cases.

The WHO admitted that it botched attempts to stop the spiralling outbreak in West Africa, blaming factors including incompetent staff and a lack of information.

The UN health agency acknowledged that, at times, even its own bureaucracy was a problem.

It noted the heads of WHO country offices in Africa are “politically motivated appointments” made by the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo, who does not answer to the agency’s chief in Geneva, Dr Margaret Chan.

In April, during a teleconference on ebola among infectious disease experts that included WHO, Doctors Without Borders and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, questions were apparently raised about the performance of WHO experts, as not all of them bothered to send ebola reports to WHO headquarters.

WHO said it was “particularly alarming” that the head of its Guinea office refused to help get visas for an expert ebola team to come in and $500,000 (€392,000) in aid was blocked by administrative hurdles. Guinea, along with Sierra Leone and Liberia, is one of the hardest-hit nations in the current outbreak, with 843 deaths so far blamed on ebola.

The outbreak already has killed 4,555 people in West Africa and WHO has said within two months, there could be new 10,000 cases every week.

When Doctors Without Borders began warning in April that the outbreak was out of control, a dispute on social media broke out between the charity and a WHO spokesman, who insisted the outbreak was under control.

At a meeting of WHO’s network of outbreak experts in June, Dr Bruce Aylward, normally in charge of polio eradication, alerted Chan about the serious concerns being raised about WHO’s leadership in West Africa. He wrote an email that some of the agency’s partners believed the agency was “compromising rather than aiding” the response to ebola and that “none of the news about WHO’s performance is good”.

Five days later, Chan received a six-page letter from the agency’s network of experts, spelling out what they saw as severe shortcomings in WHO’s response to the deadly virus.


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