By Dennis Thompson
FRIDAY, Oct. 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. troops have arrived in the beleaguered nation of Liberia, the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Their first mission: to set up an isolation center for doctors and other health-care workers infected with the deadly disease.
Six U.S. military planes arrived Thursday, and the United States may eventually send as many as 4,000 troops to help combat the viral outbreak that has already claimed more than 4,000 lives. Other nations, including Germany and Great Britain, have also pledged support, CBS News reported.
The troops' arrival came the same day that the heads of West African nations struggling with the Ebola outbreak pleaded 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. Calling the epidemic "a tragedy unforeseen in modern times," he said the world wasn't responding fast enough as children are becoming orphans and doctors and nurses are dying in vain efforts to help the sick.
Also Thursday, 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 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.
In other developments:
- Researchers at the University of Maryland said the first study of a possible Ebola vaccine had begun in Africa. Three health-care workers in Mali, which borders Guinea, received the experimental shots developed by the U.S. government, the AP reported.
- A deputy in Dallas has been given a clean bill of health after he became sick soon after visiting the apartment of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian national who was the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, according to the Dallas Morning News. Duncan died Wednesday at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.
- A nurse's assistant in Madrid, Spain, infected with Ebola was in "stable" condition, hours after authorities there had described her condition as critical, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported. She had been part of a medical team that helped treat an elderly priest infected with the virus while in Sierra Leone. The priest died last month.
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 Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the CDC's Frieden said.
JFK Airport receives nearly half of all travelers from the three countries, 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 screening programs next week.
West Africa's Ebola epidemic is the worst outbreak ever of the disease. On Friday, the World Health Organization reported that 8,399 people have become infected and 4,033 people have died. All but 23 cases and nine deaths have occurred in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the international agency added.