UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations on Monday sharply criticized new restrictions imposed by three U.S. states on health workers returning from countries hit by Ebola, with the U.N. chief saying they created difficulties for those risking their lives in the battle against the disease.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman did not name specific countries, although he acknowledged to reporters that the statement covered new quarantine rules imposed by the states of New York, New Jersey and Illinois that caused controversy when an asymptomatic nurse was ordered into quarantine.
"Returning health workers are exceptional people who are giving of themselves for humanity," said Ban's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, citing the views of the United Nations chief. "They should not be subjected to restrictions that are not based on science. Those who develop infections should be supported, not stigmatized."
The spokesman said that Ban "believes that these restrictions have put particular pressure on health care workers and those who have been on the front line" of the response to Ebola, which has killed nearly 5,000 people in three impoverished West African countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Despite Ban's stinging criticism of the restrictions, Dujarric told reporters that staff of the United Nations, which has its headquarters in New York City, would comply with all U.S. federal and local rules regarding quarantines.
The states of New York, New Jersey and Illinois issued new quarantine rules for people coming from the three countries, for fear federal guidelines do not go far enough to prevent the disease spreading outside of the region. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it will release additional guidelines later on Monday.
Among the new restrictions is a mandatory 21-day quarantine for returning health workers who had contact with Ebola patients. The White House has criticized the restrictions, saying they could impede the battle to stop the virus' spread.
"The secretary-general reiterates that the best way for any country to protect itself from Ebola is to stop the outbreak at its source in West Africa," Dujarric said.
"This requires considerable international health care worker support and in return for this support, we have an obligation to look after them," Dujarric said.
Earlier Anthony Banbury, the head of a special U.N. mission in Ghana coordinating the battle against the epidemic, said there was an urgent need for hundreds of foreign health care workers in West Africa to contain the outbreak.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Grant McCool