MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said on Wednesday she hoped U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to send 3,000 troops to West Africa to battle the worst Ebola outbreak on record would spur other countries to help.
“On behalf of the Liberian people and in my own name, I want thank President Obama and the American people for scaling up the American response,” Johnson Sirleaf said in an address to Liberians.
“We remain in touch with the leaders of other governments to take similar steps and join us in partnership to end this disease,” she said.
Johnson Sirleaf said her government was “fighting back” against the deadly virus, which has claimed the lives of some 1,300 people in Liberia, the country hardest hit by the epidemic.
On Tuesday, Obama called the outbreak a looming threat to international security and said the United States would be increasing its efforts to help stop the spread of the disease.
The U.S. plan includes establishing a regional command and control centre in Liberia’s capital; building 17 treatment centres with 100 beds each, and training thousands of health care workers.
A planeload of hospital equipment from the United States is due to arrive in Liberia on Friday, a senior administration official said on Wednesday. This is the first of 13 air shipments headed for Monrovia, carrying equipment for a 25-bed hospital to be built there.
Liberia, which was founded in the 19th century by descendants of freed American slaves, has welcomed assistance from its long-time ally, the United States.
“Ebola will not defeat us; never. We have faced great tragedies before. These have tested us and shown our true character,” said Johnson Sirleaf, referring to a 1989-2003 civil war in which up to a quarter of a million people were killed.
“I call on you to stand up again. We are fighting back and we will win.”
The worst Ebola outbreak since the disease was identified in 1976 has killed nearly 2,500 people, or about half of those infected. In addition to Liberia, cases have been reported in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal.
An outbreak said to be unrelated to the one in West Africa has been reported in Democratic Republic of Congo.
Some Liberians blame Johnson Sirleaf, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on women’s rights, for not doing more to protect them from the illness.
The current Ebola outbreak was first confirmed in March in the remote forests of southeastern Guinea.
In her address, Johnson Sirleaf said her government had acted “swiftly and decisively” with measures such as a curfew and travel restrictions.
“We acted within the scale of our capacity to contain the scale of an outbreak we could not imagine possible,” she said.
Also on Wednesday, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said that a French volunteer working for it in Liberia has contracted Ebola, and that seven of its local staff have fallen ill from the virus and three of them have died.
Healthcare workers account for hundreds of those who have been infected with Ebola.
The volunteer is the first French national and MSF’s first international staff member to be stricken with the disease in the outbreak, MSF said in a statement. The French government said she would be evacuated to France in a special medical plane.
MSF is the leading organization fighting the outbreak, with more than 2,000 staff members working across West Africa.
Reporting by Daniel Flynn; Writing by Bate Felix and Emma Farge; Editing by Toni Reinhold