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US: Epidemics Imperil Global Security

  • VOA News

U.S. President Barack Obama is calling for greater readiness to handle biological threats like the deadly Ebola outbreak that continues to spread paralyzing fear and desperation across West Africa.

The president, speaking Friday in Washington to health and security envoys from more than 40 countries and organizations, touted a strategy he described as "prevent, detect and respond."

Also Friday, the World Health Organization published new data showing the Ebola death toll in West Africa has surpassed 3,000. A WHO statement said the new toll includes more than 150 deaths in Liberia in the past two days alone.

The WHO statement also cautioned the new data may not fully reflect the scope of the epidemic, which is believed to have infected at least 6,500 people. It describes many victims as either afraid of entering hospitals or turned away from them due to overcrowding.

Obama told delegates that Japan has agreed to provide a half-million pieces of ventilated protective gear for health workers fighting the epidemic. He also issued a challenge to designers to improve such gear, saying "if you design them, we will pay for them."

In a related development, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Pentagon is providing critical medical diagnostic tools to help subdue the outbreak. A Defense Department statement noted longstanding U.S. research programs designed to protect U.S. troops from infectious diseases, including Ebola, and said that the research is being applied to the West African crisis.

Hagel said the so-called Cooperative Threat Reduction Program is providing resources and expertise in detection and surveillance. He also said other Defense assets will help "mitigate [the] economic, social and political fallout" from the outbreak.

Separately, the Washington-based International Monetary Fund on Friday approved $130 million in emergency aid for Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. In announcing the move, IMF chief Christine LeGarde said the organization is working with regional officials to ensure the outbreak is quickly brought under control and to assist with economic reconstruction.

On Thursday, Sierra Leone's government placed three more districts under isolation as it tries to contain the deadly virus. President Ernest Bai Koroma said the isolation of Port Loko and Bombali in the north and Moyamba in southern Sierra Leone will "pose difficulties" for people there, but that the lives of everyone are more important.