Two African presidents consider skipping White House Africa summit because of Ebola outbreak

The White House said Thursday that the deadly Ebola crisis won't affect a summit of African Leaders that will take place in Washington next week. But leaders from at least two countries most affected by the outbreak are reconsidering whether to attend.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary in the bureau of Africa affairs at the State Department, said Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone have been “reconsidering whether they should come to the summit” in light of the outbreak.

“While we would be terribly disappointed for them not to be here we also understand the importance of them being in their countries,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Gayle Smith, a senior director at the National Security Council, said there are no plans to change the summit, but the administration is watching developments closely.

"The administration has no plans to change the agenda of the summit but we will obviously adapt as needed,” she said.


A man washes his hands before entering a public building as part of a drive to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Thursday, July 31, 2014. The worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history surpassed 700 deaths in West Africa as the World Health Organization on Thursday announced dozens of new fatalities. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday warned against non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the outbreak has virulently spread. The CDC is sending 50 infectious disease experts to the region, among other things, to help screen passengers at airports.

According to the World Health Organization there have been 1,323 reported cases of Ebola and 729 deaths since the outbreak started in March.

“This is a tragic, painful, dreadful, merciless virus. It’s the largest, most complex outbreak that we know of in history,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said  in a news briefing Thursday.

Thomas-Greenfield said officials have spoken with the three heads of states in the countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak to “offer condolences” and find out “what additional assistance we might provide.”

The United States has provided a range of support and assistance, including personal protective equipment and technical expertise, she said.

Smith said Ebola has “obviously been a great concern” and that the administration has been engaged with countries since the outbreak started in March.

She said the United States supports the three countries most affected and some of them, such as Sierra Leone, are emerging from years of war, making the outbreak an “uphill challenge.”

Katie Zezima covers the White House for Post Politics and The Fix.
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