Ebola outbreak: Obama says epidemic 'spiralling out of control', as Australia pledges £3.9m

The President warned that if the west African countries break down there could be a "potential threat to global security", with the US now sending military personnel to affected regions

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The Independent Online

US President Barack Obama has made clear the threat that Ebola poses by warning that the epidemic is “spiralling out of control”.

He also said that the virus, which has so far killed 2,461 people after sweeping through West Africa since March, could threaten “global security”, and so has ordered 3,000 military personnel to the affected countries.

“Here's the hard truth. In West Africa, Ebola is now an epidemic, the likes that we have not seen before,” the President said yesterday.

“It's spiralling out of control, it's getting worse. It's spreading faster and exponentially.” Reuters reports him as saying.

 

Speaking after a meeting with doctors and experts at the Atlanta-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, he added: “If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people affected, with profound economic, political and security implications for all of us.”

It was also reported yesterday that the US will offer Liberia aid to build 17 new Ebola treatment centres – resulting in roughly 1,700 hospital beds. This is a marked jump from a 25-bed portable hospital previously offered by the Pentagon.

The US will also send officials to help train up to 500 health care workers a week.

It comes as a shocking forecast from the World Health Organisation (WHO) cautioned that Ebola cases could start doubling every three weeks as infections continue to spread and could cost $1billion to control.

“It's a potential threat to global security if these countries break down,” Mr Obama said, referring to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – the hardest-hit regions. Eight people have died in Nigeria, while Senegal has had one confirmed case but no deaths. According to latest figures from the WHO, as many as 4,985 people are believed to have contracted the deadly virus, which in this outbreak has had a survival rate of 47 per cent.

The moves by the US have been welcomed by an American missionary who survived the disease after contracting it in Liberia.

Dr Kent Brantly, who met the President following his recovery, told senators yesterday: "We can't afford to wait months, or even weeks, to take action, to put people on the ground."

Bolstering US’ efforts, Australia announced today that it is immediately providing an additional AUD $7million (£3.9million) on top of the AUD $1million already pledged to help the international response to the Ebola epidemic.

455482454.jpg AUD$2.5million of this aid will go to Doctors Without Borders, while a further AUD$2million will go towards the UK’s efforts at boosting medical services in Sierra Leone, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.

Last week it was reported that Cuba will provide 165 doctors to west Africa, including physicians, nurses, epidemiologists and specialists in infection control.

The group, all of whom have previously worked in Africa, will deploy in the first week of October and will remain there for six months.

“Cuba is world-famous for its ability to train outstanding doctors and nurses and for its generosity in helping fellow countries on the route to progress,” said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO.

Back in Britain, it has been announced that a healthy UK volunteer will be the first to undergo a trial for an Ebola vaccine.

They will be the first of 60 to test the new drug, which has been developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and which targets a strain of Ebola called the "Zaire species".

The vaccine is being co-developed with the US National Institutes of Health with help from experts at the University of Oxford.

It will not contain any active Ebola material and the person testing the drug will not become infected.

Analysts at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said that the EU should match the US' response.

Ana Nicholls, Healthcare Analyst at the EIU said: "President Obama is stressing the urgency of the situation, which threatens not just people's lives but also the economies and political stability of these countries, with possible global ramifications.

"It is significant, for example, that this comes just a month after a ground-breaking US-Africa summit at which around US$33billion in trade deals was announced - an acknowledgement of Africa's growing economic importance.

"The destabilisation of West Africa could undermine the region's growth, and the benefits it would bring to the millions of people."

Additional reporting by agencies

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