New York - The United Nations Security Council on Thursday declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a "threat to international peace and security" as the death toll hit 2 630 and France became the latest Western nation to step up its support.
French President Francois Hollande announced the deployment of a military hospital to the remote Forest Region of southeastern Guinea, where the outbreak was first detected in March.
Since then the virus has infected at least 5 357 people, according to World Health Organization (WHO), mostly in Guinea, neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia. It has also spread to Senegal and Nigeria.
With fragile West African healthcare systems overrun by the outbreak, Hollande said France's response would not be limited to contributing to 150 million euros ($194 million) in aid promised by European Union nations.
Also Read: Sierra Leone launches controversial Ebola shutdown
"We must save lives," Hollande told a news conference. "I have asked the defence minister to coordinate this action and to include military doctors and the civil protection agency plus air support."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday he will create a special mission to combat the disease and deployed staff in the worst-affected states.
"The gravity and scale of the situation now require a level of international action unprecedented for a health emergency," Ban said. He added that he will appoint a special envoy to head the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, which will push a "rapid and massive mobilization" of people, material and financial resources.
"This international mission ... will have five priorities: stopping the outbreak, treating the infected, ensuring essential services, preserving stability and preventing further outbreaks," Ban told an emergency session of the Security Council.
Speed is of essence
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said a surge of support could help turn things around for the roughly 22 million people in the hardest-hit countries, whose lives and societies have been shattered by the disease.
"In the hardest hit countries, an exponentially rising caseload threatens to push governments to the brink of state failure," Chan said during the session of the 15-member council.
The Security Council also adopted a resolution that also calls on states "to lift general travel and border restrictions, imposed as a result of the Ebola outbreak and that contribute to the further isolation of the affected countries and undermine their efforts to respond."
Also Read: Liberia's women, children bear brunt of Ebola epidemic
Joanne Liu, international president for medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres called on member states and others to follow the lead of countries that have committed to join the fight against Ebola.
"We need concrete action on the ground now. Speed is of the essence," Liu said.
"Although dangerously late, the pledges such as those of the U.S. and UK are ambitious, but they must be implemented now. We do not have months or even weeks to wait. Thousands of lives are at stake," she said, adding that other countries must commit to deploying assets and staff as soon as possible.
U.S. President Barack Obama, calling the disease a threat to global security, promised this week the deployment of 3,000 U.S. troops to help contain the epidemic. Britain also announced on Wednesday it would provide a further 700 treatment beds in Sierra Leone, its former colony.
One of the most deadly diseases, there is no known cure for the hemorrhagic fever, though development of several treatments and vaccines is being fast-tracked.
Attack on journalists, officials
The WHO warned on Thursday there were no signs yet of the outbreak slowing, particularly in the three countries hardest hit. It said a surge in Liberia was being driven by an increase in the number of cases in the capital, Monrovia, where 1,210 bed spaces were urgently needed - five times the current capacity.
A U.S. C-17 military aircraft landed in Monrovia international airport on Thursday with a team of engineers to assess the capacity of the runway to handle large planes.
The U.S. plan will include the construction in Liberia - the country hit hardest by the outbreak - of 17 Ebola treatment centres with 100 beds each, plus training thousands of healthcare workers.
French forces will be based in an area where authorities are battling fears and stigma about the highly contagious disease.
Highlighting these difficulties, eight bodies, including those of three journalists, were found after an attack on a team trying to educate locals on the risks of the Ebola virus in a remote area of southeastern Guinea, a government spokesman said.
Also Read: I contracted Ebola as result of Sawyer’s lies - survivor
"The eight bodies were found in the village latrine. Three of them had their throats slit," Damantang Albert Camara told Reuters by telephone in Conakry on Thursday.
In a rare piece of good news, the latest data showed no new deaths in Sierra Leone in the one day since the previous update.
The government in Sierra Leone has locked down the country, limiting movements for three days from midnight on Thursday. It said extreme measures are needed to contain the outbreak.
"Avoid touching each other, avoid eating bush meat, avoid visiting the sick, avoid attending funerals, report illnesses and deaths to the nearest health facility," President Ernest Bai Koroma said in an address to the nation ahead of the start of the lockdown.
"We know some of the things we are asking you to do are difficult. But life is better than these difficulties," he said.
However, many people fear the decision will bring more hardship to a nation that is already one of the poorest on earth and critics also question whether it will even be effective. (1 US dollar = 0.7744 euro)