LUXEMBOURG – European foreign ministers gather in Luxembourg on Monday to try and formalise a joint EU response to combat the Ebola virus amid diplomatic warnings the crisis has reached a "tipping point".
The ministers will meet hours after it was announced that a Spanish nurse who was the first person outside Africa to be infected had tested negative for the virus.
Ahead of the talks, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the bloc should consider sending "a civilian EU mission" to west Africa.
"This would offer a platform to (EU) member states" to send medical staff to the region, he said at a health forum in Berlin.
One EU diplomat said Britain – which already has a navy ship bound for Sierra Leone laden with medical staff and supplies – hoped to "galvanise EU action on Ebola".
"There is a real sense that this is a tipping point and we must get to grips with it now," said the diplomat. "If we can deal with it in the country, we don't have to deal with it at home."
Another diplomat said there are plans for three nations to spearhead global aid to the worst-hit countries: the United States for Liberia, Britain for Sierra Leone and France for Guinea.
A global UN appeal for nearly US$1 billion has so far fallen short, with only $385.9 million given by governments and agencies, and a further $225.8 million promised.
Nurse tests negative
The political move comes as Madrid announced on Sunday that Teresa Romero, a nurse hospitalised on October 6, has tested negative for the virus.
The 44-year-old will have to undergo a second test before she can officially be declared free of Ebola, the Spanish government said.
Romero contracted the tropical fever after caring for two Ebola patients who died at Madrid's Carlos III hospital, in the first known case of transmission outside Africa.
She will be given another test "in the coming hours", according to a statement from Spain's special Ebola committee, which added that her "health was... developing favourably". "I am very happy today because we can say Teresa beat the disease," Romero's husband Javier Limon said in a video filmed at the hospital where he is being kept under observation with 14 other people who had contact with Romero before she was diagnosed.
The worst-ever outbreak of the deadly virus has so far killed more than 4,500 people, almost all in west Africa, with close to 2,500 deaths registered in worst-hit Liberia.
Isolated cases among health workers in the US and Europe have sparked fear that the epidemic could turn global and prompted Western countries to ramp up their response.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said a generation of Africans were at risk of "being lost to economic catastrophe" because of the crisis, warning that the "time for talking or theorising is over". "This fight requires a commitment from every nation that has the capacity to help – whether that is with emergency funds, medical supplies or clinical expertise," the Nobel laureate said in an open letter to the world published by the BBC on Sunday.
The virus, for which there is currently no licensed treatment or vaccine, spreads via contact with bodily fluids.
Some countries have managed to get a handle on the outbreak, with Africa's most populous nation Nigeria expected to be declared free of Ebola on Monday after 42 days without registering any new infections. — AFP