The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Thursday on containing the spread of the Ebola virus, which has killed nearly 2,500 people in West Africa.The Council, which deals with threats to international peace and security, has previously discussed only one other public health crisis – HIV AIDS.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports nearly 5,000 cases of the hemorrhagic fever-like illness in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with Liberia being at the epicenter of the outbreak. Nigeria also has reported 21 cases with eight fatalities.
Several airlines and shipping companies have stopped servicing these countries out of fear of infection, although medical experts say the current strain is only transmitted through direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person or a deceased victim.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon again this week urged the lifting of travel bans, saying it is slowing the crisis response.
“We need isolation of people affected by Ebola – not of nations struggling to cope with it,” said Ban.
The United States has been at the forefront of the growing international response, with President Barack Obama announcing Tuesday that he will send to the region 3,000 military personnel, as well as medicines, equipment and other critical tools for fighting the outbreak.
The U.S. holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month. Ambassador Samantha Power has called an emergency meeting for Thursday to discuss the matter and vote on a resolution calling on nations to quickly send aid, field hospitals and health workers to affected countries, as well as lift travel restrictions to those areas.
She said she hopes countries participating in the session will come with firm commitments.
“We can contain this; we know how to do it. And we must avoid panic and fear. But our collective response to date has not been sufficient. We must move forward aggressively, in a coordinated fashion, and together,” said Power.
At the meeting, Secretary-General Ban and WHO Chief Dr. Margaret Chan will outline their international action plan to contain the threat. Also next week, on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly’s annual debate, the U.N. chief will lead a high-level meeting on the needs of people in Ebola-affected countries.
“This is not just a health crisis; it has grave humanitarian, economic and social consequences that could spread far beyond the affected countries,” said Ban.
The U.N.’s top envoy in Liberia, Karin Landgren, told the Security Council last week that Ebola’s spread has outpaced that government’s ability to respond. Landgren warned that the potential for political instability exists.