By Caren Bohan and Sharon Begley
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – New initiatives from the United States, Britain, France and other countries to help fight the Ebola epidemic that has been spreading exponentially in West Africa marked a “good beginning,” former President Bill Clinton said on Saturday, but said the world will need to do more.
“We’re still a little behind the curve but we’re getting there,” Clinton told reporters in a conference call, a day before his charity, the Clinton Global Initiative, was set to begin its 10th annual meeting in New York.
A chartered 747 jet, carrying the largest single shipment of aid to the Ebola zone to date and coordinated by CGI and other U.S. aid organizations, departed New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday afternoon bound for West Africa.
After refueling in Cape Verde, the Kalitta Air charter is scheduled to land in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Sunday morning.
The shipment of 170 pallets containing gloves, gowns and other protective equipment for medical workers will be met by government officials and local aid workers, and distributed to some 200 healthcare facilities on Monday, said Thomas Tighe, chief executive of the California-based aid group Direct Relief, which collected the 100 tons of emergency medical aid.
Because Sierra Leone on Friday started a three-day government-ordered lockdown that prohibits most people from leaving their homes as health workers and others go door-to-door to educate people about Ebola and isolate the sick, the volunteers who will off-load the Direct Relief supplies have been staying at the airport for days.
The plane will continue on to Monrovia, Liberia, to deliver the rest of its cargo: 2.8 million gloves, 170,000 protective gowns, 120,000 masks, 40,000 liters of pre-mixed oral hydration solution, and 9.8 million doses of medications. The protective equipment can supply 280 healthcare workers treating Ebola patients for one year.
Since the outbreak was detected in March, Ebola has infected at least 5,357 people, according to the World Health Organization, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and killed an estimated 2,630. It has also spread to Senegal and Nigeria.
In a major expansion of the U.S. effort against Ebola, President Barack Obama this week announced that the United States would send 3,000 troops to West Africa help tackle the outbreak, including a major deployment in Liberia.
“We’re going to have to do whatever it takes to contain the epidemic,” Clinton said.
“It’s a sprawling, growing thing. But at least they’re putting the infrastructure in and have shown a willingness to put some money behind it, and I think it’s a good beginning.”
In a brief ceremony before the 747 taxied down the runway at JFK, Liberia’s minister of foreign affairs, Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, said the aid shipment “will translate into saving lives.” He added, “We have been able to place men on the moon. Let us do a similar thing for mankind. I appeal to the international community.”
(Reporting by Caren Bohan and Sharon Begley; Editing by Leslie Adler)