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Increasingly desperate health officials are asking for volunteers to help fight the Ebola epidemic that threatens to overwhelm several countries in West Africa.

Leaders with the United Nations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are urging countries and non-governmental organizations to send medical teams as soon as possible to help contain the outbreak.

“The plain truth is that it is such a desperate situation that any competent assistance would be enormously helpful,”  CDC Director Tom Frieden said in an interview late Wednesday.

{mosads}”There is a call for doctors, nurses and mangers to be part of the response … both from the affected countries and all over the world. We have to look everywhere to get enough help to turn this around.”

The United Nations said Wednesday that the healthcare force currently on the ground must triple or quadruple in size very soon if there is any hope to contain Ebola’s spread.

Though officials declined to endorse sending military personnel, they said time was running out fast.

“We are not in a position where we can afford to lose one day,” said David Nabarro, senior U.N. coordinator for Ebola.

The calls for help represent a marked change in tone since early August, when health officials believed that initial efforts to contain the virus would succeed. But the outbreak has proven very difficult to beat on the ground, with at least 3,500 sickened and 1,900 dead in five countries as of this week.

Now, each additional infection or death is seen as moving toward a point of no return for the epidemic.

But the situation is at a standstill given that outside nations are loath to deploy military personnel or send vast clinical teams into harm’s way to fight Ebola.

Most of the care currently being provided to patients comes from doctors in the affected countries or Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian group that is increasingly outmatched.

The group’s international president, Dr. Joanne Liu, berated U.N. member states earlier this week for refusing to use their full capacity for fighting biological threats to address Ebola.

“States have essentially joined a global coalition of inaction,” Liu said. “Funding announcements and the deployment of a few experts do not suffice.”

To answer this call, Western governments would likely have to undergo the political headache of engaging military personnel and equipment.

For now, officials are working to convince other players — African business, community and religious leaders to start — to increase their involvement.

Frieden said the World Bank has committed to spend at least $200 million on the response effort, and that the African Union is close to agreeing to send an unprecedented force of “healthkeepers” to work on the ground.

He also suggested that other U.S. government agencies could get involved.

“We are looking at every option right now, from volunteers to NGOs to parts of the U.S. government,” he said. “The one that seems to be the quickest seems to be the ‘healthkeepers’ idea, which has never been done before.”

In the meantime, as another American doctor was diagnosed with Ebola Wednesday, officials acknowledged that finding the necessary healthcare workers will be difficult.

Ebola has no vaccine and experimental treatments are hard to come by. The disease is transmitted by bodily fluids, usually to caregivers or burial workers.

“This produces a different magnitude of anxiety and fear,” Nabarro said. “It is very difficult to mount a response to the scale that is in keeping with the gaps” that exist.  

Tags Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC; Doctors Without Borders
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