UN to send vehicles to fight Ebola in West Africa

The UN Ebola response mission will bring five helicopters, vehicles and motorcycles to transport patients.

FILE: A health worker stands near a man suspected of suffering from the Ebola virus as he lies on the ground naked after he was admitted to Island Hospital in Monrovia on 2 October 2014. Picture: AFP.

FREETOWN - The United Nations (UN) Ebola response mission will bring five helicopters, vehicles and motorcycles to transport patients and reach communities in West Africa in stepped up efforts to combat the epidemic, the head of the mission said.

The governments of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are struggling to contain the worst outbreak on record of the deadly haemorrhagic fever.

The outbreak has crippled already poor healthcare systems in countries where Ebola patients are dying on the street and ambulances, medical staff, hospital beds and basic health kits are in short supply.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday updated its death toll to 3,439 out of 7,492 suspected, probable and confirmed cases. The epidemic has hit hardest in impoverished Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

"We have to [act] as fast as we can because every day longer that it takes, more people die and that is not acceptable," said Antony Banbury, the 50-year-old American diplomat who heads the United Nations Mission on Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).

"Nobody should be under the illusion that it will be easy (to stop)," Banbury told journalists in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, after meeting with the country's authorities. "Thousands have died and more will die tomorrow."

Banbury said UNMEER will focus on logistics. It will bring five helicopters, vehicles and motorcycles next week to give community mobilisation workers better transportation to trace potential Ebola contacts to stop the spread.

The WHO has declared the Ebola epidemic an international public health emergency, and governments from the US to China, Cuba and Britain have sent troops and medics to help contain the disease.

As part of the US effort to help contain the spread of Ebola, the Pentagon said on Friday the number of military personnel that could be deployed to West Africa could reach nearly 4,000, more than earlier estimates of about 3,000.

British charity, Save the Children, said on Thursday that five people in Sierra Leone were contracting Ebola every hour and warned that could double by November if urgent actions were not taken.