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Obama warns against Ebola 'hysteria'

As president addresses scares over epidemic, a WHO internal report describes initial bungled response to outbreak

President Barack Obama urged Americans on Saturday not to succumb to hysteria about Ebola, amid three cases nationwide in a global pandemic that has infected over 9,000 in West Africa.

Obama also remained adamant in his weekly radio address that he is not planning to give in to demands from some lawmakers for a ban on travelers from the worst-hit countries, including Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Obama, whose approval rating is already low, has been criticized over his administration's handling of Ebola. He held a flurry of meetings on the issue in recent days and on Friday appointed Ron Klain, a lawyer with long Washington experience, to oversee the effort to contain the disease.

Obama sought to put the extent of the disease in the United States in perspective. "What we're seeing now is not an 'outbreak' or an 'epidemic' of Ebola in America," he said. "This is a serious disease, but we can't give in to hysteria or fear."

Americans' faith in the medical system and in authorities' ability to prevent the disease from spreading in the United States was jolted by a series of mis-steps after a Liberian visitor to Texas was initially not diagnosed with the illness by a Dallas hospital in late September.

The man, Thomas Eric Duncan, was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital several days later and diagnosed with the disease. Two nurses who were part of the team caring for Duncan, who died on Oct. 8, contracted Ebola. Amber Vinson is being cared for at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital, while Nina Pham is being treated at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) just outside Washington.

Pham, whose condition was described as "fair" on Friday, continues to rest comfortably at NIH, hospital spokesman John Burklow told Reuters on Saturday.

A chain of more than 100 people who had contact with either Duncan or the sick nurses are being monitored in case they develop the disease, which has an incubation period of up to 21 days and is transmitted by contact with a sick person's bodily fluids.

Some 800 passengers who took the same planes as Vinson on a trip she made to Ohio before being diagnosed, and passengers on subsequent flights using the same planes, have been contacted by the airline, Frontier Airlines, the carrier said on Saturday.

The airline said in a letter to employees that it had been informed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the Dallas nurse may have been in a more advanced stage of the illness than previously thought, when she traveled back to Dallas from Cleveland on Oct. 13.

The White House said late on Friday it would send senior personnel to Dallas to help federal, state and local officials there trying to identify and monitor people who came in contact with the three people who fell sick with Ebola.

WHO, under fire

The Obama administration is not alone in facing criticism. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been faulted for failing to do enough to halt the spread of Ebola since the outbreak was first detected in March.

The U.N. health agency said Saturday it wouldn’t explain details contained in an internal document obtained and released by the Associated Press news agency, in which the organization blamed incompetent staff, bureaucracy and a lack of reliable information for its allegedly slow and weak response to the outbreak that has reportedly killed more than 4,500 people since May.

"WHO will not do interviews or explain details on this document until it is completed," the health agency said in a statement Saturday. "WHO believes in transparency and accountability and will release this review when it is fact-checked."

In Ghana, WHO director Margaret Chan canceled a scheduled news conference. Chan was scheduled to attend a meeting in Ghana of the U.N. Mission on Ebola Emergency Response, which was expected to end Saturday.

When Doctors Without Borders warned in April that Ebola cases were out of control, a dispute on social media broke out between the charity and a WHO spokesman who insisted the virus was being contained.

According to the internal report, it was only in June that WHO's Chan was alerted to the seriousness of the outbreak and of the organization's botched efforts in West Africa.

At a meeting of WHO's network of outbreak experts in June, Dr. Bruce Aylward, normally in charge of polio eradication, emailed Chan about the major concerns being raised about WHO's leadership in West Africa, telling her that some of the agency's partners — including national health agencies and charities — believed WHO was "compromising rather than aiding" the response to Ebola.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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