BRUSSELS – Liberia's president on Tuesday called for an Ebola "Marshall Plan" to help rebuild economies in West African nations devastated by the virus.
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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said that "we need our international partners to remain committed to us," as the number of deaths from the disease approaches 10,000.
Sirleaf told fellow regional leaders and delegates at an international conference on Ebola in Brussels that restoring economic growth in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone is a long-term and costly task.
She said that "the most important long-term response to Ebola rests on plans and strategies for economic recovery," adding that "this will require significant resources, perhaps even a Marshall Plan," referring to the vast U.S. plan which helped Europe recover from World War II.
The outbreak is focused in an area of West Africa about the size of France, with a population of about 20 million people, and where infrastructure is limited. Even if the number of new Ebola cases in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone has dropped markedly, bringing it down to zero will still take a significant effort.
Ebola has undermined the three countries' already fragile economies, shifting resources resulting in other health care problems and hurting business as people grew scared to leave their homes or go to markets.
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"We are talking about a Marshall Plan because Ebola is like a war," Guinea President Alpha Conde said.
About $4.9 billion has been pledged internationally to the Ebola effort, but only around $2.4 billion has actually been disbursed.
Nevertheless, important progress has been made as the number of new cases of Ebola has dropped to about 100 per week, down from 800-900 at the height of the outbreak in August and September.
But experts and officials warn that eradicating the last cases poses a huge challenge, requiring everyone to be tracked down and treated, and the close monitoring of all people they may have come in contact with.
"We have turned the corner, but even as we have shown an improvement in results, the virus is still with us. We are still in a fight," Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma said.
The head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies also warned against any loss of momentum.
"The Ebola outbreak is not over and complacency, both at local and global levels, would be one of our worst enemies," Elhadj As Sy said.