World leaders cry for help fighting Ebola

Leaders of African nations ravaged by Ebola are stepping up their pleas for help as the global response to the crisis moves slowly.

The presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea — where nearly all Ebola deaths have occurred — laid out urgent demands for money, healthcare workers and hospital beds at a meeting of some of the world's top officials Thursday.

Ernest Bai Koroma, president of Sierra Leone, said his country immediately needs at least 5,000 health workers, including doctors, nurses, hygienists, counselors and nutritionists.

He also asked for 200 ambulances and 200 burial vehicles. 

“The fight on the ground in Sierra Leone urgently needs the help of the people gathered here today,” Koroma said by video call. “Commitment on paper and during the meetings are good. But commitments as physical facts on the ground are best.”

Koroma's country, as well as Liberia, also face major shortages of hospital beds. Combined, the two countries have only 924 beds available out of the more than 4,000 beds needed, according to the World Health Organization

World leaders have struggled to mount an aggressive and coordinated response to Ebola, challenged by already weak infrastructures in the affected countries. The U.S. has also faced hurdles in Congress, with several Republicans holding up $750 million in Ebola funding until Friday.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the countries needed 20 times more aid than they were already receiving.

"For those who have yet to pledge, I say please do so soon," Ban said. "This is an unforgiving disease."

The meeting included top world leaders from the U.N., the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, who have repeatedly urged countries to amplify their responses to Ebola.

The U.N. reported last week that three-quarters of all money committed to fight Ebola has not yet reached the affected countries. 

The U.S. has spent about $208 million so far in the fight against Ebola, though that figure is expected to rise significantly in the next few weeks as hundreds of troops are deployed. As many as 4,000 troops could respond to the crisis, remaining for as long as a year, according to U.S. military officials.

The federal government has committed more than $1 billion to battle the disease, though a majority of that funding was held up by congressional leaders.

The spread of Ebola has not yet shown signs of slowing, and the number of cases has been doubling about every three weeks. At least 8,000 people have been infected so far in West Africa and at least 3,800 have died.

After the meeting, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim told CNN that the international response to Ebola is the equivalent of "putting a towel under the door of a building on fire."

Some countries have faced hurdles in sending needed resources. The Japanese government said Thursday that it sent 20,000 protective suits in mid-September but the shipment had been stuck in a neighboring country.