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African leader urges 'Marshall Plan' for countries worst hit by Ebola epidemic

Benoit Doppagne, Belga photo, AFP I Congo's President Denis Sassou NGuesso, Queen Mathilde of Belgium, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Guinean President Alpha Conde and Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UN

The leaders of the West African countries worst hit by Ebola called for more aid to eradiate the disease and rebuild their shattered economies at an international conference in Brussels Tuesday.

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Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma and Alpha Conde of Guinea urged the world to help their recovery as the number of new cases slows.

More than 9,700 people have died of the disease since the west African epidemic emerged in southern Guinea in December 2013, with nearly 24,000 people infected, according to the World Health Organization.

"The impact of Ebola on our economies has been profound. The most important long-term response to Ebola therefore rests in plans and strategies for economic recovery," Sirleaf told the EU-backed conference.

"There is no doubt this will require significant resources, even a Marshall Plan," she said, referring to the US-led aid plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II.

The International Monetary Fund in Washington approved on Monday funding and debt relief worth about $187 million for Sierra Leone for coming years, with $85 million of that to be disbursed immediately.

The charity Oxfam has previously made similar calls for a Marshall Plan-type effort to help stricken west Africa.

The countries at the centre of the Ebola epidemic are forecast to lose 12 percent of their combined gross domestic product this year, according to World Bank estimates.

In addition, their health sectors have been partially wiped out by the epidemic or forced to divert resources to fighting Ebola at the expense of other diseases like measles, malaria and AIDS.

'No complacency'

The conference gathered the three African leaders plus more than 60 delegations including the European Union, China, the United States, Cuba and Australia, plus the United Nations, the World Bank and other international organisations.

The African leaders repeated a pledge made last month to eradicate the disease by mid-April.

"We must guard against complacency. There will not be total victory until we get to" zero cases, Koroma said. "We must be ever-ready to aggressively combat this oubtreak."

UN Ebola envoy David Nabarro said on Monday that the number of new cases had declined from around 900 a week to 100, but that cases appeared to be climbing back up in the coastal regions of Sierra Leone and Guinea.

"The purpose of this conference is getting to zero" in terms of human cases, an EU official involved in the talks said separately, but added: "The curve is flattening out, but definitely it is not at zero."

Officials pointed to the fact that Nigeria, Senegal and Mali have all managed to show that Ebola cases can be reduced to zero after they too were hit by the virus.

Countries around the world have so far pledged $4.9 billion to fight Ebola, with $2.4 billion disbursed until now, officials said.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will host a further conference in April in Washington to see if there are still financial gaps, followed by another called by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in May, Nabarro said.

Ebola, one of the deadliest pathogens known to man, is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms such as fever or vomiting.

(AFP)

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