By Dennis Thompson
THURSDAY, Oct. 9, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The heads of West African nations battered by the Ebola outbreak pleaded Thursday with world leaders for massive increases in financial and medical aid.
"Our people are dying," Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma said by videoconference at a World Bank meeting in Washington, D.C. He called the epidemic "a tragedy unforeseen in modern times," NBC News reported, adding that the world isn't responding fast enough as children are being orphaned and doctors and nurses continue to die.
The calls for help came the same day that the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention likened the Ebola crisis to the early days of the AIDS epidemic, which also started in Africa.
"In my 30 years in public health, the only thing that has been like this is AIDS," Dr. Tom Frieden said at the World Bank conference. "We have to work now so that this is not the world's next AIDS."
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a 20-fold increase in international aid to the beleaguered nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Representatives gathered for the World Bank meeting pledged medical evacuations for health care responders who catch the virus, the Associated Press reported.
"For those who have yet to pledge, I say please do so soon," he said. "This is an unforgiving disease."
The U.S. military is preparing to build medical centers in Liberia -- the hardest hit country -- and may send up to 4,000 soldiers to help with the Ebola crisis. Other nations, including Germany and Great Britain, have also pledged support, the AP reported.
In the United States, stepped-up screening measures for Ebola will begin Saturday at JFK International Airport in New York City, the first of five major U.S. airports that will start screening travelers entering the country from West Africa.
The five airports receive 94 percent of the roughly 150 travelers who arrive daily in the United States from the West African nations hit hardest by the Ebola outbreak -- Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a Wednesday news briefing.
JFK Airport receives nearly half of all travelers from the three countries struggling with Ebola, officials said.
The four other airports -- Washington Dulles International, O'Hare International in Chicago, Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey -- will begin their enhanced entry screening programs next week.
Meanwhile, the remains of Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with and killed by the Ebola virus in the United States, will be cremated to limit potential spread of the virus.
Duncan, 42, died Wednesday at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. The remains of Ebola victims "may contain Ebola virus," according to CDC guidelines sent to U.S. hospitals and mortuaries, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Cremation will kill any virus in the body so the remains can be returned to the family, officials said.
Duncan became infected with Ebola in Liberia before arriving in the United States on Sept. 20.
In related news, the condition of a Spanish nurse's assistant infected with Ebola has worsened, CNN reported Thursday. The woman is the first person known to catch Ebola outside of West Africa. She was part of a medical team that treated a Spanish priest who died in the Madrid hospital last month after being flown back from Sierra Leone.
In discussing the U.S. airport screening measures Wednesday, the CDC's Frieden said these measures make more sense than cutting off travel to the three countries, since such a move would hamper global efforts to end the Ebola outbreak there. Aid workers wouldn't want to travel to West Africa to help if there was a chance they wouldn't be able to return home, he explained.
"As long as Ebola continues to spread in Africa, we can't make the risk zero here," Frieden said.
The CDC is sending additional staff to the five airports to support the new screening measures, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Customs & Border Protection.
After passport reviews, travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will be escorted by customs agents to an area of the airport set aside for screening. Officials will be able to identify these travelers even if they have taken one or more connecting flights, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said at the Wednesday news briefing.
Customs officials will observe these travelers for signs of illness and ask them a series of health and exposure questions. Trained medical staff will take their temperature with a non-contact thermometer.
Those without symptoms or a known history of exposure will receive health information about Ebola, and will be reminded to monitor themselves for symptoms.
Travelers will be routed to a CDC quarantine station if they are running a fever, showing symptoms of Ebola or giving answers that reveal a possible Ebola exposure. Once there, a public health officer will take another temperature reading and evaluate the person's health.
Anyone who needs further evaluation or monitoring after the CDC screening will be referred to the appropriate public health authority.
Enhanced entry screening might have spotted Duncan, who entered the United States on Sept. 20, apparently healthy, before falling ill with Ebola days later, Frieden said.
Even though Duncan wasn't running a fever during his flight, "these additional questions may have identified him after he arrived in the United States," Frieden said.
These measures will complement the exit screening procedures that have already been put in place in the affected West African countries. CDC experts have worked closely with local authorities to implement those measures.
During the two months since exit screening began in the three countries, 77 out of 36,000 people screened have been turned away from their flight due to health concerns, the CDC said. None of those 77 passengers ultimately came down with Ebola; instead, many had contracted malaria, a disease common in West Africa.
Frieden said health officials expect to see some patients with fevers during entry screening, "and that will cause some obvious and understandable concern at the airport." But people should keep in mind that most or all of these people will not have Ebola, he said.
West Africa's Ebola epidemic is the worst outbreak ever of the disease. So far, an estimated 8,000 people have become infected and an estimated 3,880 people have died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization.