U.N. Security Council eyes action to heighten Ebola response

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council could adopt a resolution later this week to expand the global response to the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa by calling on countries to lift travel restrictions and provide urgent assistance, including field hospitals and staff.

The United Nations logo is displayed on a door at U.N. headquarters in New York February 26, 2011. REUTERS/ Joshua Lott

The draft U.N. resolution on Ebola, circulated to council members and obtained by Reuters, calls on U.N. member states, particularly in the region, “to lift general travel and border restrictions ... that contribute to the further isolation of the affected countries and undermine their efforts to respond.”

U.N. diplomats said if the U.S.-drafted resolution could be adopted, it would only be the third time the 15-member body, which is charged with maintaining international peace and security, has taken such action on a public health crisis.

“This is an extremely unusual occurrence for an infectious disease outbreak to come before the council,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, president of the council for September, said.

“We’ve had overwhelming support up to this point but again the negotiations on the resolution are ongoing,” she said.

The council adopted resolutions in 2000 and 2011 on HIV/AIDS. It is due to meet on the Ebola crisis and possibly adopt a resolution on Thursday, but some diplomats warned that questions may be raised as to whether it falls under the council’s purview.

Power said the affected countries, which include Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal, had made it clear to council members that the crisis was a severe threat to national, regional and broader international peace and security.

The death toll from the disease, which is spread by contact with the body fluids of infected people, has doubled in the past month to 2,461. The World Health Organization has warned that a “much faster” response is needed to limit the number of cases to the tens of thousands.

The resolution calls on states to “provide urgent assistance, including deployable medical capabilities such as field hospitals with qualified and sufficient expertise, staff and supplies and laboratory services, logistical and construction support capabilities including for airlift, aeromedical services and dedicated clinical services in Ebola Treatment Units.”

It urges countries and regional groups including the African Union and the European Union “to mobilize immediately, especially to provide technical expertise and additional medical capacity, including for rapid diagnosis and training of health workers.”

The council meeting on Thursday is due to be open to all U.N. member states, and Power has said she hopes they will come with “concrete commitments” to aid the fight against Ebola. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to address the council.

The United States said on Tuesday it would send 3,000 troops to West Africa, build 17 treatment centers, train thousands of healthcare workers and establish a military control center for coordination.

This Ebola outbreak was first confirmed in Guinea in March.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Toni Reinhold