THE US announced yesterday that it would send 3,000 troops to help fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, as health officials warned that $1bn (€772m) in aid spending was needed to bring the virus's spread under control.
Following criticism by aid agencies that the international response has been "lethally inadequate", Washington said it would dispatch the soldiers to Liberia, the worst affected of the countries hit by Ebola.
The mission, led by a US general, is the biggest US deployment to Africa since the ill-fated humanitarian mission to Somalia in 1993. It will help provide logistical support to a country whose health service has effectively been destroyed by the outbreak.
One of the mission's priorities will be building 17 100-bed healthcare facilities; another will be training 500 new health workers a week to help deal with infected patients.
"The goal here is to search American expertise, including our military, logistics and command and control expertise, to try to control this outbreak at its source in West Africa," Lisa Monaco, Barack Obama's White House counter-terrorism adviser, said, ahead of an expected announcement by the US president.
The UN has warned that up to 20,000 people across West Africa could be infected by Ebola by the end of the year, with some aid agencies predicting the true figure could be twice that.
Medecins Sans Frontieres, the main agency operating specialist Ebola treatment clinics in Liberia, said that up to 30 patients per day are being turned away due to lack of beds at its new facility in the capital, Monrovia, leaving them free to infect other people.
Many Liberian hospitals have closed because of the number of health workers infected, leaving the country's four million people with no emergency medical help.
In a report released yesterday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that $987.8m (€762m) was needed to contain the outbreak, which has claimed 2,461 lives. The report added that $23.8m (€18.5m) was needed simply to buy body bags and pay the burial teams who collect victims' bodies, which remain highly infectious after death.
"This health crisis we're facing is unparalleled in modern times," said Bruce Aylward, assistant director general of WHO.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a press briefing that the UN General Assembly will follow-up next week with a high-level meeting - the disease, he said, would get "a special focus" at an event that will welcome more than 140 heads of state and government.
Before that, an emergency meeting will be held tomorrow in which Mr Ban and WHO director general Margaret Chan plan to "outline the international action plan to contain this threat."
The UN's response so far has drawn criticism, with the president of Medecins Sans Frontieres yesterday calling it "dangerously behind".
Mr Ban also said the disease could "affect political instability" if it isn't "properly contained and properly treated."
"This is not just a health crisis," he told reporters.
"It has grave humanitarian, economic and social consequences that could spread far beyond the affected countries."
Many regional and major airlines have suspended services to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, complicating efforts to bring medical workers and supplies to the region.
In the briefing, Mr Ban reiterated an appeal for international airlines and shipping companies not to suspend services to countries affected by Ebola. (© Daily Telegraph, London)