MONROVIA: The United Nations vowed on Saturday to play a “strong role” in helping Liberia and its neighbors fight a deadly outbreak of Ebola in west Africa, which it said could take months to bring it under control.
Liberia has been particularly hard hit by the epidemic that has swept relentlessly across the region since March, accounting for almost half of the 1,427 deaths.
In recognition of the deteriorating situation, neighboring Ivory Coast announced it had closed its borders with Liberia and Guinea in a bid to protect its citizens.
“Ebola in Liberia must be addressed to ensure a stable economy, future and society,” said Karin Landgren, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s special representative for the country.
“The magnitude of this outbreak requires a higher level of coordination than previous responses and the UN Mission in Liberia will play a strong role in this effort,” she added.
Her comments were echoed by David Nabarro, the UN’s new pointman on Ebola, who arrived in the region on Thursday to tour the Ebola-hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.
Nabarro, a British physician tasked with coordinating the global response to the worst-ever outbreak of the deadly virus, said the UN would “ensure that adequate resources are given to sectors that need it most.”
A day earlier, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned it could take “several months” to bring the epidemic under control.
“This is not something to turn around overnight, it is not going to be easy; we expect several months of hard work,” said the UN agency’s Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda, who is accompanying Nabarro on his tour.
Death toll rises
Their visit has coincided with a surge in new cases of Ebola in the region, as affected countries struggle to contain the spread of the killer virus.
The WHO said on Friday that the death toll had risen to 1,427 out of more than 2,600 cases — with 77 succumbing to the disease between August 18 and 20.
A British national who lives in Sierra Leone has tested positive for Ebola, the first British citizen to have contracted the disease, according to officials.
He was reportedly set to be flown back to Britain for treatment in the next couple of days.
Nigeria, which has seen progress in battling the outbreak, has suffered five deaths to date. Officials said on Friday that two more people had tested positive for Ebola.
Liberia remains the worst-affected country with 624 deaths. Guinea has seen 406 people die while in Sierra Leone, 392 have succumbed to the hemorrhagic fever.
Aid workers said crematoriums in the Liberian capital Monrovia were struggling to deal with dozens of bodies arriving every day, and earlier this week, violence erupted in an Ebola quarantine zone in the capital after soldiers opened fire on protesting crowds.
The failure of West African countries to bring the epidemic under control has worried its neighbors and nations further afield.
Many flights to the region have been cancelled, and authorities around the world have adopted measures to screen travelers arriving from affected nations.