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MSF calls for greater global response to fight Ebola

MSF says biological disaster response teams are needed to support West Africa’s buckling healthcare systems.

FILE: A man prepares to take off his protective suit at Biankouma's hospital during a simulation, on 14 August 2014. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Doctors without Borders (MSF) say despite calls for a massive mobilisation to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the international response has been inadequate.

The organisation has hosted a special briefing at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

MSF's Borrie la Grange says world leaders are failing to address the epidemic.

"We are calling on states with the capacity to make resources available and immediately send those personnel and assets to West Africa."

On Tuesday, the United Nations said the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa was causing food shortages in one of the world's poorest regions and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned the disease was threatening the stability of stricken countries and their neighbours.

Doctors in Liberia were out on strike as they struggled to cope with the worst outbreak of Ebola on record, while the global aid MSF said 800 more beds for Ebola patients were urgently needed in the Liberian capital Monrovia alone, while in Sierra Leone, highly infectious bodies were rotting in the streets.

Governments and aid organisations have scrambled to contain the disease, which according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), has killed more than 1,500 in West Africa since March.

In an address to United Nations member states, MSF President Joanne Liu said, "Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it."

She said aid charities and West African governments did not have the capacity to stem the outbreak and needed intervention by foreign states.

Slamming what she called "a global coalition of inaction," Liu called for the urgent dispatch of field hospitals with isolation wards and mobile medical laboratories.

MSF, said biological disaster response teams were needed to support West Africa's buckling healthcare systems.

There are no approved Ebola vaccines or treatments, but as hospitals and Ebola treatment centres battled to contain the disease and tend to the sick and dying, the US Department of Health and Human Services said a federal contract worth up to $42.3 million would help accelerate testing of an experimental Ebola virus treatment being developed by privately held Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc.

The agency said in a statement that Mapp, based in San Diego, California, would manufacture a small amount of its ZMapp drug, which uses antibodies manufactured in tobacco plants, for early stage safety studies and animal studies needed to prove its effectiveness and safety in people.

ZMapp is one of several treatments for Ebola under development. The drug, although never tested in humans, gained attention this summer when two American aid workers who contracted Ebola in Liberia were cured after receiving it. Their physicians said they did not know if the drug helped.

Human safety trials are due to begin this week on a vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline Plc. GSK.L and later this year on one from NewLink Genetics Corp.

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa could infect more than 20,000 people and spread to more countries, the WHO warned last week. With a fatality rate of 52 percent, the death toll stood at 1,552 as of 26 August.

AMERICAN STRICKEN, MEDICAL STAFF STRIKE

US missionary organisation SIM USA said on Tuesday that an American doctor treating obstetrics patients at the ELWA hospital in Monrovia had tested positive for Ebola. The doctor, who was not working in the hospital's Ebola treatment centre, was in an isolation ward at the hospital and responding well so far, SIM said on its website.

At Monrovia's John F. Kennedy Medical Center (JFK) scores of staff went on strike to protest against working conditions and unpaid bonuses. Amid shortages of equipment and trained staff, more than 120 healthcare workers have died in West Africa in the Ebola outbreak.

The Liberian strike came a day after healthcare workers at the Connaught hospital in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown held a one-day protest over pay and conditions.

Staff there returned to work on Tuesday after they said the government settled a backlog of hazard pay and agreed to raise the weekly risk bonus to $100 from $40 for nurses working in Ebola wards and members of burial crews.

Separately, the Liberian government began offering a $1,000 bonus to any healthcare workers who agreed to work in Ebola treatment facilities.