International institutions ready funds for Ebola-hit countries

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - International development banks are preparing a package of emergency loans for three West African countries hit by the deadly Ebola virus, bank officials said on Monday as African leaders gathered in Washington for a US-hosted summit focusing on the region.

African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka told Reuters the bank would immediately disburse funds to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, whose health systems have been stretched by the outbreak. The worst outbreak of Ebola ever has killed nearly 900 people since it began in February.

Bank officials said the funding was close to US$60 million (S$75 million).

"These countries need structural support to build up their health systems" still recovering from years of conflict, Mr Kaberuka said.

"We have the science, we have the ability, and the means to contain this thing. I am confident of that," he said.

The World Bank is set to announce funding for each of the countries after approval by its board, bank officials said. They declined to elaborate on the amount of the funds until shareholder countries have authorised the funding.

"We're putting together a substantial emergency package for the three countries and will announce it early this week," a bank official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The funding is part of a US$100 million emergency response plan launched by the World Health Organiation last week. WHO chief Margaret Chan said on Friday that Ebola was outpacing efforts to contain it and warned of "catastrophic" consequences if the situation deteriorated.

The United States will also provide more help to the affected countries and to international agencies responding to the outbreak, providing equipment and technical expertise, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday.

Senior State Department officials were meeting with Guinean President Alpha Conde and representatives from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria on Monday to discuss US support.

Liberia and Sierra Leone's presidents cancelled their plans to attend the summit to deal with the outbreak at home, although they have sent delegations to the meetings.

Nearly 50 African leaders are attending the economic, security and diplomatic summit through Wednesday.

US President Barack Obama said on Friday that the United States was "taking the appropriate precautions" and that some participants at the summit would be screened for exposure to the virus.

A second American aid worker who contracted the haemorrhagic virus while helping fight the disease in West Africa was expected to arrive in Atlanta on Tuesday, according to Christian mission group SIM USA.

Sierra Leone and Liberia deployed hundreds of troops on Monday under an emergency plan to fight the spread of the virus.

The outbreak began in the forests of remote eastern Guinea in February.

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