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Ebola Response Includes Emergency Airlifts

A health worker examines a man suffering from Ebola at a treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Some doctors in countries hit hardest by the deadly Ebola disease decline to operate on pregnant women for fear the virus could spread. Governments face calls from frightened citizens to bar travel to and from the afflicted region. Meanwhile, the stakes get higher as more people get sick, highlighting a tricky balance between protecting people and preserving their rights in a global crisis. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)

The World Food Program is airlifting emergency supplies to the Ebola-stricken countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The U.N. agency said the Ebola response goes beyond its traditional role of providing food aid.

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The WFP said it’s “shifted gears to support the international community to stem the unprecedented virus outbreak.”

Spokesman Alexis Masciarelli says airlifts emanate from U.N. Humanitarian Response Depots.

“Well, we indeed are organizing airlifts all this week – from Italy, from Dubai, from Accra, where I am now, into the three countries most affected by the Ebola virus.”

The airlifts do not carry the usual WFP supplies.

“What we are airlifting this week is not food. It’s logistics equipment that is going to be used for all the humanitarian response here – all the agencies -- U.N. agencies, the medical organizations -- to provide them in the support they need in terms of storing equipment, of transport – getting things moving to finally overcome this virus,” he said.

The first flight Wednesday -- from Brindisi, Italy to Liberia -- carried nearly 60-metric tons of such things as water tanks and generators. In all, hundreds of tons will eventually be delivered.

Masciarelli said the World Food Program is also helping with the construction of four Ebola treatment centers in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. They’ll provide an additional 400 beds.

“Normally, we are the agency that is fighting hunger around the world. So, obviously we are still doing that. And so far, since our first food distribution that was at the end of March just a week after the outbreak was declared there, we’ve distributed food to over 500,000 people,” he said.

Masciarelli said that food is being provided to those in the Ebola treatment centers.

“So they can have something nutritious to eat – something of good quality. If they don’t get enough food, even if they get the treatment, they obviously can’t get better. We’re also providing food to the families of the people who’ve been affected, who are currently under treatment or who have died. [We’re providing] o people who’ve actually been cleared and have managed to beat the disease and are going home, but they’re still too weak to go back to get an income. And we’re also going to larger communities – areas in particular in Sierra Leone – that have been put under quarantine by the government.”

Recent assessments indicate deteriorating food security in the Kailahun and Kenema districts of Sierra Leone.

Besides the airlifts, a WFP-contracted ship is carrying 7,000 metric tons of rice from Benin to Sierra Leone and Liberia.