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Medical charity MSF wants U.N. to take lead on Ebola epidemic

By Marine Pennetier

PARIS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council must lead efforts to stop the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, a senior official from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Friday, warning the current response risked aggravating the crisis.

Mego Terzian, head of the medical charity's French arm, said the epidemic was getting worse each day and neither MSF, the World Health Organisation (WHO) or the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea had the means to contain it.

"I am extremely pessimistic if there is not a substantial international mobilization," Terzian told Reuters in an interview in Paris.

"Organizations like the WHO and MSF will be not capable to mobilize additional human resources, additional logistics in order to control the epidemic," he said.

MSF is the leading private charity battling Ebola, with about 2,000 staff in the four countries - Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria - previously affected. Senegal became the fifth to confirm a case of Ebola on Friday.

Apart from overloading local health systems, the epidemic is putting security in several countries to the test. Riots broke out in Guinea's second-largest city Nzerekore on Thursday over rumors health workers had infected people with the virus.

Last week, Liberian police had to fire tear gas to disperse a stone-throwing crowd trying to break an Ebola quarantine imposed on their Monrovia neighborhood.

SPREADING CRISIS

Terzian said that the U.N. Security Council should adopt a resolution to pressure countries to get involved in the crisis, in particular European nations and the United States.

"There are security risks in the region if the international community is not involved," he said. "The United Nations Security Council should take over the dossier and coordinate with major governments that have the capacity to deal with a major epidemic."

Ebola could infect over 20,000 people and spread to more countries, the WHO said on Thursday, warning an international effort costing almost half a billion dollars is needed to overcome the outbreak.

The U.N. health agency announced a $490 million strategic plan to fight the epidemic over the next nine months, based on a projection that it could spread to 10 more countries beyond those already affected.

Terzian said the U.N. should consider how to help local health ministries to establish security, set up additional isolation centers, mobilize workers and distribute disinfection kits and information about the disease.

That level of coordination, especially concerning security measures, goes beyond what the WHO normally does and Terzian did not specify more specific steps the U.N. should take.

MOBILIZE THE WEST

"France, like other countries, can send doctors, logistical coordinators, experienced people who know how to coordinate urgent situations and organize transport when commercial flights are closed," he said.

Terzian singled out Western governments in particular for not doing enough. He said that by encouraging local governments to isolate the problem, close borders and stop air traffic, they were causing more harm than good.

"As long as Western countries are not infected, I have the impression there will not be a serious mobilization," he said. "There have been a lot of speeches and promises of financial support, but that's it."

So far 3,069 cases and 1,552 deaths have been reported in the outbreak but the WHO said the actual number could already be two to four times higher.

"The situation is getting worse. We will have hundreds and thousands more people infected who will arrive en masse at health centers," he said. "In Guinea, eight regions have been hit. In Sierre Leone, the situation is catastrophic and out of control and in Liberia, let's not even talk about it."

Terzian said it was still not too late to turn the tide, but that countries with the necessary capacity and expertise to handle such a crisis had to act immediately.

"If we continue to close the borders, to stop the international flights and just watch how West Africans are dying, we will have problems," he said.

(Writing by John Irish; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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