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UN needs $600M to stem Ebola as deaths top 1,900

Washington/Conakry – The United Nations said $600 million in supplies would be needed to fight West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, higher than the estimate of $490 million by the World Health Organization (WHO) last week as the death toll rose to 1,900.

Guinea, the first country to detect the virus, previously said it was containing the outbreak but announced that nine new cases had been found in the prefecture of Kerouane, some 750 km (470 miles) southeast of the capital Conakry.

The pace of the infection has accelerated, and there were close to 400 deaths in the past week, officials said on Wednesday.

Guinea has recorded 489 deaths and 749 Ebola cases as of Sept. 1, and the epicenter of the outbreak has shifted to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

EBOLA-FREE

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Enrique T. Ona assured that Filipino peacekeepers in Liberia remain Ebola-free. At least 1,395 cases with 771 deaths have been recorded in Liberia.

“In Liberia, where the Filipino contingent to the UN [United Nations] Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is stationed, none of our peacekeepers have been infected by Ebola,” Ona declared.   He said the DOH regularly communicates with the Defense Department and the Philippine National Police to monitor the condition of the Filipino contingent.

Also none among the OFWs in Liberia under the umbrella organization of the Association of Filipinos in Liberia have been infected by the virus.

Peacekeepers include correction officers, police, soldiers, and UN civilian staff.

Dr. David Nabarro, senior UN Coordinator for Ebola moving workers and supplies around the region has been made difficult by restrictions by some countries on air travel and landing rights as they try to control Ebola’s spread.

“We are working intensively with those governments to encourage them to commit to the movement of people and planes and at the same time deal with anxieties about the possibility of infection,” Nabarro said.

HAMPERED BY CUTS

The Ebola epidemic has exposed gaping holes in the ability to tackle outbreaks in an increasingly interconnected world, where diseases can quickly spread from remote villages to cities housing millions of people.

The WHO, the United Nations agency assigned in its constitution to direct international health efforts, tackle epidemics and help in emergencies, has been badly weakened by budget cuts in recent years, hobbling its ability to respond in parts of the world that need it most. Its outbreak and emergency response units have been slashed, veterans who led previous fights against Ebola and other diseases have left, and scores of positions have been eliminated — precisely the kind of people and efforts that might have helped blunt the outbreak in West Africa before it ballooned into the worst Ebola epidemic ever recorded.

Unlike the SARS crisis of 2003, which struck countries in Asia and elsewhere that had strong governments and ample money to spring to action, the Ebola outbreak has waylaid nations that often lack basic health care, much less the ability to mount big campaigns to stamp out epidemics.

Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, said governments have the primary responsibility “to take care of their people,” calling the WHO a technical agency that provides advice and support. Still, she noted that her organization, like many governments and agencies, was not prepared.

“Hindsight is always better,” Dr. Chan said. “All the agencies I talked to – including the governments – all of us underestimated this unprecedented, unusual outbreak.”

EBOLA FOUND AN OPENING

When the global financial crisis struck, WHO had to cut nearly $1 billion from its proposed two-year budget, which today stands at $3.98 billion. By contrast, the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2013 alone was about $6 billion. (With a report from Charina Clarisse L. Echaluce)