IMF allows Ebola-stricken nations to borrow more money

Sierra Leone, Guinea and Libera were allowed to borrow $130 million more to fight Ebola

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The International Money Fund (IMF) has changed its rules to allow Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia – the three worst countries hit with Ebola – to borrow more money and run higher deficits in order to fight the epidemic.

“I believe that all energy has to be focused on trying to contain the disease first and foremost… and helping those countries deal with it, which is why the IMF has shifted $130 million to those three countries and cash was in the bank within few days of the decision that was made,” Christine Lagarde, the IMF managing director, told Al Arabiya’s Lara Habib from Washington on Friday.

She highlighted the negative impact the move will have on the African states.

“There is no doubt that it will reduce growth in those three countries, it will hamper their development, it will entail economic decline and again the urgency is to help them fight those risks, which is what we are prepared to do,” Lagarde said.

On Thursday the presidents of the three West African nations made urgent pleas for money.

“Our people are dying,” said Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma. He described devastating effects of “this evil virus” — children made orphans, doctors and nurses dying, an overwhelmed medical system that can't keep up, the Associated Press reported.

Koroma spoke by video from Sierra Leone to an Ebola summit at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington. He said the world's response hasn't kept pace with the spread of Ebola, and “a tragedy unforeseen in modern times” is threatening everyone.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a 20-fold surge in international aid to fight the outbreak.

“For those who have yet to pledge, I say please do so soon,” Ban said. “This is an unforgiving disease.”

At the meeting here, President Alpha Conde of Guinea asked for money, supplies, medicine, equipment and training of health care workers.

“Our countries are in a very fragile situation,” Conde said through a translator. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia also appeared by videoconference to seek a rapid increase in aid.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim praised pledges from the United States and the European Commission to evacuate health care workers who become infected while responding to the crisis in West Africa, to encourage doctors and nurses to risk their lives to help.

“One of the sticking points of getting foreign medical staffs into these three countries has been the lack of medical evacuation,” Kim told reporters afterward.

Doctors, nurses and hospital staff are especially at risk because Ebola is spread through bodily fluids such as blood and vomit. More than 370 health care workers have been sickened or killed by the virus in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

The U.S. military is building a hospital in Liberia for infected medical personnel, expected to be finished by the end of the month.

Kim said that more health centers must be built quickly to ensure West Africans have faith that they can get the care they need in their own communities, and no longer fear that Ebola centers are places where people go to die.

That is also the best way to stop the spread of Ebola into other nations and to counter the fear that magnifies the disease's economic damage, Kim said.

[With AP]