U.N. to set up Ebola crisis center, aims to stop spread in six to nine months

UNITED NATIONS Fri Sep 5, 2014 6:23pm EDT

A resident of West Point neighborhood, which has been quarantined following an outbreak of Ebola, pushes a wheelbarrow full of food rations from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Monrovia August 28, 2014. REUTERS/2Tango

A resident of West Point neighborhood, which has been quarantined following an outbreak of Ebola, pushes a wheelbarrow full of food rations from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Monrovia August 28, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/2Tango

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations plans to set up an Ebola crisis center to coordinate the response to the deadly virus and to strive to halt its spread in West African countries in six to nine months, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on Friday.

Ban called on the international community to provide $600 million needed for supplies in West Africa, where more than 3,500 confirmed or probable cases of the hemorrhagic fever have been reported and more than 1,900 people have died since March.

"The number of cases is rising exponentially. The disease is spreading far faster than the response. People are increasingly frustrated that it is not being controlled," Ban told reporters.

"The goal is to stop Ebola transmission in affected countries within six to nine months, and to prevent the international spread of the virus," he said. "This can be done only if the urgent and necessary mobilization is done both in the affected countries and by the international community."

Countries affected by the epidemic include Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. An outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is unrelated to and independent of the West African epidemic, the World Health Organization has said.

It is the worst outbreak since the virus was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now Democratic Republic of Congo. The WHO has said casualty figures may be up to four times higher than reported, and that up to 20,000 people may be affected before the outbreak ends.

"We need contributions - people, material and funding - from governments, the private sector, financial institutions, non-governmental organizations and other groups at the grass roots," said Ban after meeting with heads of U.N. agencies on the issue.

"We agreed to establish an Ebola crisis center to bring synergy and efficiency to the efforts of these many partners within and beyond the United Nations," he said.

Ebola can only be transmitted by contact with the bodily fluids of a sick person, but rigorous measures are required for its containment. There is no proven cure, though work on experimental vaccines has been accelerated.

Ban urged airlines and shipping companies not to cancel flights and docking in the affected countries. Shortages of basic goods, food and medical equipment have been worsened by a decision by some airlines to stop flying to the worst-hit countries

"Banning flights and shipping services will not keep Ebola from spreading, but it will keep medical teams from reaching people most in need," he said. "Stigma and rumor can do just as much damage as the virus itself. It is crucial to remember that Ebola can be avoided and controlled."

(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)