American hospital equipment heads to Liberia as Ebola battle intensifies

The first planeload of hospital equipment in the US military’s contribution to the battle against West Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak will arrive in Liberia by the weekend.

The US hopes its expanded effort to contain the spread of the virus will help rally other countries in ramping up the global response to the epidemic, aid official Nancy Lindborg told a US House of Representatives committee.

The epidemic has killed nearly 2,500 people, about half those infected.

The plane is the first of 13 air shipments headed for Monrovia carrying equipment for a 25-bed hospital to be built in Liberia’s capital.

The US has outlined a dramatic expansion of the American response to Ebola. It will send 3,000 military engineers, medical personnel and other troops to West Africa. They will build 17 treatment centres with 100 beds each, and train thousands of healthcare workers.

Funding includes $US58 million to speed production of the ZMapp antiviral drug and two vaccine candidates, as well as $US30 million for additional staff and supplies at the Centres for Disease Control.

The African Union and the European Union are also mobilising resources to the affected areas.

Britain has announced it will increase aid to Sierra Leone to provide 700 treatment beds over the coming months, with military personnel helping their roll-out.

The need for global action is being discussed at a United Nations meeting.

A resolution of the meeting circulated by the US prior to the gathering in New York expressed “grave concern” that the outbreak will undermine stability in those countries affected, resulting in political and security risks.

The draft also calls on member states to lift travel and border restrictions imposed as a result of Ebola and calls on “airlines and shipping companies to maintain trade and and transport links” with the region.

‘Fear factor’ could cause economic disaster

The meeting came as the president of the World Bank Group warned that the economic impact of the outbreak would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars in those countries affected.

“There was over $US40 billion in loss of GDP, as a result of the SARs epidemic. 80 to 90 per cent, we found, of that impact was due to what we call aversion behaviour, or the fear factor; ports closing down; airlines shutting down; people not going to work,” Dr Jim Kim said.

“So we really have two contagions: the first is due to the virus and the second is due to this… fear factor.”

Dr Kim called for coordinated treatment and prevention efforts, saying “right now, without any certainty of effective treatment, people are running in all kinds of directions.

“We need to set up centres in every village and every urban slum, in the hospitals, where people understand how to prevent the spread of the disease and also how to treat it.”

The International Monetary Fund has also proposed an additional $US127 million to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to help them deal with the outbreak.

The funds, which must still be approved by the IMF’s executive board, would help cover an estimated $US300 million financing gap in the West African countries over the next six to nine months, when the IMF expects the impact of the outbreak to be most acute.

Healthy volunteer injected with Ebola vaccine

A healthy British volunteer became the first person to receive a new vaccine for the Ebola virus in a trial at the University of Oxford in England.

The volunteer is one of 60 who will receive the drug at the University of Oxford in testing that will run alongside similar trials in the United States and could mean a vaccine being produced by the end of the year.

Researchers hope to establish whether the vaccine, which contains genetic material from the Ebola virus, can trigger the immune system to produce enough antibodies to fight off the disease, which has a mortality rate of over 50 per cent.

Medical aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières says a French volunteer working in Liberia has contracted Ebola, adding that seven local staff members have already fallen ill from the deadly virus.

The volunteer, the first French national and MSF’s first international staff member to catch the disease in the outbreak, was put in quarantine when early symptoms of the illness appeared earlier this week, according to an MSF statement.