Obama, Red Cross see progress in Ebola battle

MONROVIA- US President Barack Obama and the Red Cross have offered hope that the battle against the deadly West African Ebola outbreak is being won, amid a dramatic drop in bodies collected in Liberia’s capital.

Obama on Tuesday hailed progress in the fight against the disease, which has already killed almost 5,000 people, but said Washington would remain “vigilant,” and stressed that science, not fear, should guide the response to the virus.

The Red Cross aid group announced that its workers were picking up little more than a third of the late September peak of more than 300 bodies a week in and around Monrovia — an indication, it said, that the outbreak was retreating.

The upbeat mood appeared at odds with the assessment of UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who warned at a crisis meeting in Ethiopia that the spread of the virus continued to outpace the response, while the head of the World Bank appealed for thousands more medics to join the fight.

The comments came a week after the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that Ebola transmission “remains intense” in the capitals of Liberia and neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone.

WHO assistant director-general Bruce Aylward will on Wednesday give an update on the UN agency’s response to the outbreak .

Obama said the disease “can be contained” and vowed: “It will be defeated.”

Citing a phone conversation with members of a US team dispatched to help combat Ebola, Obama said “the good news is that it’s starting to have an impact.”

“They’re starting to see some progress in Liberia, and the infrastructure is beginning to get built out,” he said.

Fayah Tamba, head of the Liberian Red Cross, said his workers collected 117 bodies last week from Montserrado county, which includes Monrovia, noting a steady decline from the high of 315 from September 15 to 21.

“I am sure you don’t need a rocket scientist to tell you that the cases are dropping,” he told private radio station Sky FM.

Nearly all of the Ebola fatalities have been in West Africa. This has led to cancelled flights, border closures and a firestorm of criticism in the United States over the treatment of returning health workers.

Another country in West Africa, Mali, is scrambling to prevent a full-blown outbreak after a two-year-old girl died from an Ebola infection following a 1,000-kilometre (600-mile) bus ride from Guinea.