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US Diplomat: Foreign Aid, Awareness Help Slow Ebola Infection Rates

FILE - U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power participates in a panel discussion, "The Ebola Crisis: How it Arose and What you Need to Know," in New York.
FILE - U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power participates in a panel discussion, "The Ebola Crisis: How it Arose and What you Need to Know," in New York.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said there are positive signs emerging in the three hardest-hit West African countries that the Ebola epidemic is finally being contained.

Samantha Power, appearing Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation, credited international aid efforts and improved awareness campaigns for helping slow the rate of infections.

Power said thanks to the presence of officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and elements of the U.S. military, the numbers of safe burials have "skyrocketed" in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, to 90 percent.

She said the rate of safe burials within 24 hours is now close to 100 percent in Sierra Leone.

Reducing infections

The CDC has said up to 70 percent of new Ebola infections occur during the burial of people killed by Ebola because their body fluids still contain the virus.

"So, you can imagine what a difference that could start to make in just a matter of days or weeks, and the rate of improvement in safe burial came over a four- to five-day period just because of the injection of command-and-control, frankly, by the United States and the British in Sierra Leone," she said.

Power, just back from a visit to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, said more people are getting educated about the dangers of Ebola and social mobilization is moving into the rural areas of all three countries.

She said the rate of infection is declining where there is a combination of a mobile laboratory for blood testing, a treatment unit and social mobilization.

Power, when asked about Canada’s decision to ban travelers from West Africa, said the Obama administration believes a better way to keep the American people safe is by dealing with the problem at its source, and by increasing the traffic of health care providers and others who can help the region.

"We want to make sure that we don’t do anything, given the long history particularly between the United States and Liberia and the friendship and good that we are doing with these countries, we don’t want to do anything to impede the response," Power said.

"And, I will say one of the things that I heard when I was there was marveling at President Obama hugging Nina Pham, the nurse who had been infected [with Ebola] at Texas-Presbyterian [Hospital in Dallas, Texas] who is Ebola-free," she said. "One of the messages I heard was, ‘We need the whole world to hug us like Obama hugged Nina Pham. And, right now, it’s the United States that is aggressively hugging us,’ but other countries need to step up."

Urgent need for health workers

Power said the most urgent need is for health workers.

She said the Ebola treatment centers being constructed by the United States are fully staffed for only a month.

Health care workers, whom she called "these extraordinatry individuals, should be incentivized to go into these regions, she said, and they should be welcomed home and treated with great respect and appreciation when they return.

There is some controversy in the United States over the actions of some states to require a 21-day quarantine of health workers returning from West Africa.

Power said she is taking her own temperature twice daily and reporting it to New York state health authorities.