President Obama called on world leaders Thursday to help stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa, saying the epidemic is still raging out of control.
“This is more than a health crisis,” Mr. Obama said, wrapping up three days of diplomacy surrounding the United Nations General Assembly gathering. “The Ebola virus is spreading at alarming speed. This is a growing threat to regional and global security.”
More than 2,900 people have died from the virus in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization. Liberia has reported 1,700 new cases in the past three weeks.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the epidemic is killing more than 20 people per day, and more than 300 health care workers have died while treating patients. WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan said the epidemic will get worse still before it gets better.
Mr. Obama, who’s been criticized for responding too late to the epidemic, last week committed up to $1 billion from the U.S. to combat the crisis with military personnel and medical supplies. He said the international response has not been strong enough or swift.
“We need to be honest with ourselves — it’s not enough,” Mr. Obama said. “In Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, public health systems are near collapse. Economic growth is slowing dramatically. If this epidemic is not stopped, this disease could cause a humanitarian catastrophe across the region.”
Top lawmakers in Congress on Thursday also approved the use of leftover Afghanistan war money to begin funding the president’s $1 billion request to help fight the outbreak.
The U.N. announced last week it was creating an emergency response team to bring resources to West Africa. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said up to 1.4 million people could be infected by January, in the worst-case scenario.
The Pentagon is deploying as many as 3,000 personnel to work with local officials in Liberia to establish 17 Ebola treatment facilities across the country with 100 beds each. Defense Department medical personnel also will train up to 500 African health care workers per week.
“Stopping Ebola is a priority for the United States,” Mr. Obama said. “But this must also be a priority for the world.”
More than 6,200 people have been infected since the outbreak began in the spring. Health officials have reported the fatality rate of the outbreak is 71 percent of those infected.