The UN Security Council will convene for an emergency meeting Thursday to address the ongoing Ebola epidemic spreading across West Africa, according to the president of the 15-member body. This will be only the second time in history the council has met to address a public health crisis.
More than 4,000 cases of Ebola have been reported and 2,400 people have died in West Africa during the unprecedented outbreak. Liberia has been the hardest-hit country, along with Sierra Leone and Guinea. The only other time the UN Security Council has met about a public health crisis was its January 2000 response to the AIDS pandemic.
"It is crucial that Council members discuss the status of the epidemic, confer on a coordinated international response, and begin the process of marshaling our collective resources to stop the spread of the disease," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Powers said on Monday. She told reporters at UN headquarters that she hopes the outcome of Thursday's gathering will urge a much more urgent international response to the burgeoning need for qualified medical professionals, equipment, supplies and aid to the region.
"The situation on the ground is dire and is growing worse by the day," Powers said.
"The trendlines in this crisis are grave, and without immediate international action we are facing the potential for a public health crisis that could claim lives on a scale far greater than current estimates, and set the countries of West Africa back a generation," added Power. "This is a perilous crisis but one we can contain if the international community comes together to meet it head on."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Dr. Margaret Chan of the World Health Organization and Senior UN System Coordinator for Ebola Virus Disease David Nabarro will brief the council as well. Ambassadors from the affected countries will also ask the international community for increased aid and more expedient action.
For the month of September, the United States is president of the UN Security Council, which implements a month-long rotating presidency.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced last week that it has pledged $50 million, the largest amount ever donated towards a humanitarian crisis, to fight the viral disease. The funds – $5 million has been given to WHO and another $5 million to UNICEF – would boost United Nations agencies and international organizations involved in containing and treating the virus.
The historic donation follows an international distress call last week from Moon, who said "the world can no longer afford to short-change global public health" and urged organizations to help WHO raise the approximate $600 million needed.
The Ebola virus, which is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of sick patients, has affected three American missionaries, including Dr. Kent Brantly who recently spoke of his "miraculous" recovery after contracting the virus in Liberia. "The nature of Ebola is that health-care workers are predominantly affected, because of the way that it is spread," Brantly said on the “Today” show. It is “a very real difficulty” of this epidemic, he added.
Doctors and nurses are particularly vulnerable to contracting Ebola. There is no approved treatment or vaccine, though human trials for a potential vaccine are set to begin soon.
"There was trepidation. I wasn’t afraid of treating Ebola patients in the isolation unit," Brantly said. "That was the safest job. But seeing patients in the clinic, seeing patients in the emergency room, being in the community – those things gave me pause."