U.S. to train Liberian armed forces to help tackle Ebola crisis

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 12, 2014 3:39 PM

By Derick Snyder and Umaru Fofana

MONROVIA/FREETOWN (Reuters) - The United States said on Friday it would train Liberia's security forces to assist in isolation operations to tackle an Ebola epidemic ravaging the West African nation, after a boy was killed when soldiers opened fire on a protest last month.

The worst Ebola outbreak on record has killed more than 2,400 people in West Africa - more than half of them in Liberia. Liberian officials have called the outbreak the greatest threat to national stability since a 1989-2003 civil war.

Many in the country, founded by descendants of freed American slaves, have looked to Washington for support, as they did during the civil war, which killed nearly 250,000 people.

The U.S. government has already committed around $100 million to tackle the outbreak by providing protective equipment for healthcare workers, food, water, medical and hygiene equipment.

U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac told reporters in Monrovia that the United States would support Liberia both through the epidemic and beyond.

"We're committed, as President Obama has said, to see this through to the end as well to address the lingering impact, especially on the economic side, that Liberia is expected to experience as the result of this outbreak,” she said.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf faced criticism after troops fired live rounds at a protest over a quarantine imposed in the ocean-front slum West Point in the capital. A 15-year-old boy was fatally shot.

"We're going to be training the Liberian national police and the armed forces on how they can best support isolation operations and to provide security near hospitals, holding centers and treatment units," Malac said, without providing further details.

EVACUATION CALLS

With the death toll from Ebola in West Africa rising sharply in the last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday at least 500 foreign experts were needed. [ID:nL5N0RD1DS]

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has also called on wealthy nations to send military medical teams to West Africa to boost healthcare systems that have been completely swamped by the disease.

Cuba on Friday announced that it would deploy 165 medical personnel to Sierra Leone next month, the largest contingent of foreign doctors and nurses committed so far.

The U.S. military said this week it will build a 25-bed, $22 million field hospital in Liberia to care for health workers infected with the virus. A Pentagon spokesman said it would be built by the U.S. military and handed over to Liberians to run.

France has also said it would deploy 20 specialists in biological disasters to its former colony Guinea. Britain will also build and operate a 62-bed hospital in Sierra Leone.

MSF has said, however, the pledges by Western government represent just a fraction of the beds required to cope with the disease. It estimates that hundreds of additional beds are needed in Monrovia alone, where Ebola patients have been turned away from overflowing clinics.

In Sierra Leone, calls grew for a local doctor infected with Ebola to be medically evacuated to Europe after several foreign healthcare workers were flown out for treatment overseas. Dr Olivette Buck, who ran a health center in a western suburb of Freetown, was the fourth Sierra Leonean doctor infected.

"We have already lost three doctors (and) with our already limited amount of doctors and health workers we cannot afford to lose another one," Muctar Turay, leader of the group WeCare Sierra Leone, told Reuters.

Including nurses and other staff, over 30 health workers have died of Ebola in Sierra Leone since the outbreak began.

Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, an adviser to President Ernest Bai Koroma, said the government was "seriously looking into the matter" and a decision would be taken soon.

(Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Hugh Lawson)