Europe vows to step up aid for Ebola crisis

European Union foreign ministers have called for more money, more coordination and more health workers on the ground to respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa.  EU leaders will consider a pledging goal of $1.27 billion for Ebola when they meet later this week.

In a statement following their meeting Monday in Brussels, European Union foreign ministers called for a “united, coordinated and increased effort” to contain the Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 4,500 people to date – most of them in West Africa.

European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton spoke to reporters after the meeting.

“[We] recognize that Ebola represents an unprecedented crisis that requires an unprecedented response,” she said. “We’ve already seen the pledging of the EU and its member states of over 500 million euros in assistance to the fight against Ebola and recognize the need to make an increased effort in close cooperation with the United Nations.”

The goal today: doubling that assistance to about $1.27 billion. European Union leaders will discuss reaching that target when they meet later this week.

The foreign ministers also agreed on the need to boost the numbers of European health workers sent to the most affected African countries. One option is to set up a pool of volunteer experts, with guarantees they will be provided appropriate care if needed.

And Ashton said the EU was considering appointing an ‘Ebola czar’ of sorts, to coordinate the bloc’s response.

“What I’m very keen is that we’ve worked out precisely what they’re going to do, what their terms of reference will be,” she said. “And as I said at the meeting is that we need to do that swiftly, because this is a situation that requires now a fast response.”

With several Ebola cases so far in Europe, the 28-member bloc also wants to boost its own defenses against the virus. But the ministers rejected barring flights from West Africa as a way to stop Ebola’s spread.  However, France, Belgium and Britain have established airport screening procedures  for incoming flights from the region.

Last week, the U.N. called for a $1 billion fund to combat the growing Ebola outbreak, noting only a tiny fraction of that amount has been pledged to date.

The World Health Organization has described a worst-case scenario of 10,000 new cases a week by the end of the year.

One good piece of news comes from Nigeria, which the WHO declared Ebola-free on Monday.