Obama: Significant gap in global Ebola fight

The WHO said earlier that the total number of infections could reach 20,000 by November.

US President Barack Obama. Picture: AFP.

UNITED NATIONS - US President Barack Obama warned on Thursday that there was still a "significant gap between where we are and where we need to be" in the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and appealed for more countries to help.

An outbreak that began in a remote corner of Guinea has taken hold of much of neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing nearly 3,000 people in just over six months. Senegal and Nigeria have recorded cases but, for now, contained them.

"Stopping Ebola is a priority for the United States," Obama told a meeting on Ebola on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. "More nations need to contribute critical assets and capabilities, whether it's air transport, medical evacuation, health care workers, equipment, or treatment."

"If we move fast, even if imperfectly, then that could mean the difference between 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 deaths versus hundreds of thousands or even a million deaths," Obama said.

WHO said earlier this week that the total number of infections could reach 20,000 by November, months earlier than previously forecast. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said between 550,000 and 1,4 million people might be infected in West Africa by January if nothing was done.

The World Bank announced at the UN meeting it would give an additional $170 million to boost the healthcare workforce and health systems in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The World Bank had previously approved $230 million for those countries.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told the meeting by video link that her country was facing perhaps its greatest challenge and while the world had taken some time to adequately respond: "We are fighting back."

She said Liberians had struggled to understand Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever spread through body fluids such as the blood, sweat or vomit of those who are infected with the disease.

"We succumb to fear and anger when we are told that we must back away from a bleeding and vomiting mother or child that our dead loved ones must be taken away by strangers with their bodies never to be seen again or memorialised," she said.

Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma also appealed for more international help.

"Sierra Leone and its sister republics may be at the frontlines of this fight but we require the heavy aerial and ground support of the world to defeat a disease worse than terrorism," he told the meeting, also by video link.

The Ebola outbreak comes a decade into Sierra Leone and Liberia's recovery from intertwined civil wars that killed hundreds of thousands of people in the 1990s.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has established a special UN mission to help combat Ebola. He said on Thursday that some 4,000 UN staff had applied to deploy with the mission to the worst-affected countries.

"The world can and must stop Ebola - now," Ban said.