A Liberian man pushes bread past a wall mural part of a sensitization program about the deadly Ebola virus in Monrovia. Picture: AHMED JALLANZO

Pretoria - South Africa should have played the leading role in the fight against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa, Frans Viljoen, director of the University of Pretoria's centre for human rights, said on Wednesday.

“As South Africans we should laud President Barack Obama,” he said during a University of Pretoria panel discussion on South Africa's preparedness for Ebola.

“He made the announcement about the US sending huge amounts of resources and personnel into Liberia. As a beacon of public health on the continent, as a country that stands for African problems being resolved by Africans themselves, South Africa should have taken a leading role.”

The country should have taken more proactive steps, instead of merely making sure there was protective clothing available.

Obama issued a global call to action on Tuesday to fight the West African Ebola epidemic. He warned the outbreak was unprecedented and “spiralling out of control”, threatening hundreds of thousands of people.

Speaking as he unveiled a major new US intervention plan which would see 3000 US military personnel deployed to West Africa to combat the growing health crisis, Obama said the outbreak was spreading exponentially.

Under the plan, the US government could end up devoting US1

billion to contain the disease that has already killed at least 2400 people.

Nearly 5000 people have become ill from Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, and Senegal, since it was first recognised in March.

The World Health Organisation anticipates that figure could rise to more than 20,000 and end up costing nearly US1 billion to contain.

The health department's chief director of communicable diseases, Dr Frew Benson, said the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo was particularly worrying to South Africa.

“Although this is a different outbreak, this is of concern. This is an SADC country. There are trucks, commercial vehicles that transport there,” Benson said.

“The outbreak in Congo is more rural. The number of deaths is concerning particularly among health care practitioners.”

Last month, government issued travel embargoes for non-citizens arriving from Ebola-affected West African countries Ä Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said screening procedures were in place for visitors from Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia. These had been categorised as medium-risk countries.

Sapa