GENEVA — The number of Ebola cases in West Africa could start doubling every three weeks and it could cost nearly $1 billion to contain the crisis, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
Even as President Barack Obama was expected to announce the deployment of 3,000 American forces to help provide aid in the region, Doctors Without Borders said the global response to Ebola has been far short of what is needed.
"The response to Ebola continues to fall dangerously behind," Dr. Joanne Liu, president of the medical charity, told a U.N. special briefing on Ebola in Geneva. "The window of opportunity to contain this outbreak is closing. We need more countries to stand up, we need greater deployment, and we need it now."
In a report released Tuesday, WHO said some $987.8 million is needed for everything from paying health workers and buying supplies to tracing people who have been exposed to the virus, which is spread by contact with bodily fluids such as blood, urine or diarrhea. Some $23.8 million alone is needed to pay burial teams and buy body bags, since the bodies of Ebola victims are highly infectious and workers must wear protection suits.
Nearly 5,000 people have been sickened by Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal since it was first recognized in March. WHO says it anticipates that figure could rise to more than 20,000. At least 2,400 people have died, with Liberia bearing the brunt of the fatalities.
Recent weeks have seen a flurry of promises of aid.
In addition to the U.S. forces, the U.N. health agency said China has promised to send a 59-person mobile laboratory team to Sierra Leone that includes lab experts, epidemiologists, doctors and nurses. Britain is also planning to build and operate an Ebola clinic in Sierra Leone, and Cuba has promised to send the country more than 160 health workers.
"The question is translating these commitments into quick action on the ground," said Dr. Unni Krishnan, head of disaster preparedness and response for the aid group Plan International.
Still, hospitals and clinics in West Africa are now turning the sick away because they don't have enough space to treat everyone — a sure-fire way to increase the spread of the disease, which in this outbreak is killing about half of those it infects.
The United States, in particular, drew criticism last week when it promised to set up a 25-bed field hospital in Liberia to serve health care workers, both local and foreign, who become infected. Many thought the contribution was paltry, given that experts were saying Liberia needed at least 500 more treatment beds.
In addition to the troop deployment, Obama is expected to promise on Tuesday to build more than a dozen treatment centers in the afflicted region.
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writers Maria Cheng in London, Sarah DiLorenzo in Dakar, Senegal, and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.