UNITED NATIONS — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton made an impassioned appeal Thursday for modern health care in the Ebola-stricken countries of West Africa where his foundation works. He told The Associated Press afterward he hopes to keep working in Africa and elsewhere — regardless of what happens politically with his wife, Hillary.
Clinton, whose wife is the leading Democratic presidential contender, called the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea "a man-made disaster" caused by poor medical facilities. By contrast, he said, when one case of Ebola was reported in Nigeria, the government had a system in place, visited 19,000 homes in six weeks, and kept the disease from spreading.
Clinton urged donor governments and organizations to earmark 15 percent of their aid money over the next three to seven years to build health systems across Africa.
"My basic message is this: More than anything else, though these countries have terrible economic problems ... they have to have health systems or we'll be back here four or five years from now dealing with the same sort of problem,," he said.
The former president visited Liberia, where the Clinton Foundation's Health Access Initiative is supported by the governments of Norway and Britain and other partners. He said he spent a few days there before Liberia was declared Ebola-free on May 9.
"I had to go through all the protocols for daily monitoring of symptoms, and you can all relax because this morning I am officially Ebola free," Clinton said.
He told a U.N. conference on promoting partnerships to strengthen health systems that the Ebola's outbreak severity wasn't surprising — on the day before it started Guinea had just one health worker for 1,600 inhabitants, Liberia had one for every 3,472 and Sierra Leone had one for every 5,319 people.
"How would the health outcomes for each of our countries be if, like Liberia, we had one physician for every 71,000 people?," Clinton asked. "That would be the equivalent of having 23 doctors for all of Manhattan."
The 68-year-old former president then quipped: "The older I get, the more I'm convinced I use 23 doctors in Manhattan!"
Clinton said the three Ebola-hit countries have presented initial plans covering two to three years to the World Bank to strengthen their health systems. Liberia requested $1.3 billion, Sierra Leone $1.06 billion, and Guinea $2.9 billion.
"Let me say to the donor community, if you make these investments it'll save you a lot of money over the long run," Clinton said. "It'll save you the money that you're going to spend on future infectious disease outbreaks."
As he left the meeting, Clinton responded to a question from AP on whether he would keep working for the Clinton Foundation regardless of his wife's political future. The global charity's finances have come under heavy scrutiny as Hillary Rodham Clinton seeks the White House for a second time.
"I hope so," Clinton said. "This is my work, you know. I've been doing it for 15 years and I love it, and I think it's important."
He said the next six months "is going to be particularly important" for the Ebola-hit countries because donors are going to decide what to do and decide whether "to listen to these countries — that they really need to be able to protect themselves."
"And we can do this if we work together," Clinton said.