Six U.S. military planes arrived Thursday at the epicenter of the Ebola crisis, carrying more aid and American Marines into Liberia, the country hardest hit by the deadly disease that has devastated West Africa and stirred anxiety across a fearful world.
At a World Bank meeting in Washington, the presidents of several West African countries struggling with Ebola pleaded for help, with one calling the epidemic “a tragedy unforeseen in modern times.”
“Our people are dying,” Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma lamented by videoconference at a bank meeting in Washington. He said the world is not responding fast enough as children are orphaned and infected doctors and nurses are lost to the disease.
Alpha Conde of Guinea said the region’s countries are in “a very fragile situation.”
“This disease is today an international threat and deserves an international response,” he said, speaking through a translator.
Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he was reminded of the start of the AIDS epidemic.
“We have to work now so this is not the next AIDS,” Frieden said.
The fleet that landed outside the Liberian capital of Monrovia consisted of four MV-22 Ospreys and two KC-130s. The 100 additional Marines bring to just over 300 the total number of American troops in the country, said Maj. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, the commander leading the U.S. response.
Meanwhile, British authorities said they would introduce “enhanced” screening of travelers for Ebola at Heathrow and Gatwick airports and Eurostar rail terminals.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said passengers arriving from West Africa would be quizzed about their travels and contacts. Some people could be given a medical assessment and advice on what to do if they develop symptoms.
Also Thursday, Liberian police used batons and rattan whips to disperse 100 protesters outside the National Assembly, where lawmakers were debating granting President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf more powers beyond those contained in a state of emergency declared in August. Her handling of the crisis has been criticized as heavy handed and ineffective.
Liberian state radio announced that Senate elections scheduled for next week would be postponed. No new date was given.
The outbreak has killed more than 3,800 people, according to the latest World Health Organization figures. The vast majority of those deaths have been in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The U.S. military is working to build medical centers in Liberia and may send up to 4,000 soldiers to help with the Ebola crisis. Medical workers and beds for Ebola patients are sorely lacking.
British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said his country would provide more than 750 troops to help build treatment centers and an Ebola “training academy” in Sierra Leone. Army medics and helicopters will provide direct support. Britain will also contribute an aviation support ship.
British troops are expected to arrive next week in Sierra Leone, where they will join military engineers and planners who have been there for nearly a month helping to construct medical centers.
The German military, which has already been flying material such as protective clothing from Senegal to the worst-hit countries, planned to start a wider deployment of aid in mid-November. The military is expected to set up a clinic for 50 patients.