Sierra Leone leader misses London Ebola talks after plane break-down

Britain hosted an international conference on Thursday to help organise the fight against Ebola in its former colony Sierra Leone, but the African nation’s president could not attend because his plane broke down.

President Ernest Bai Koroma was due to be the guest of honour at the half-day meeting, which will bring together ministers, diplomats and health officials from around 20 different countries and world organisations.

“Unfortunately the president of Sierra Leone is now unable to take part in the Defeating Ebola Conference,” a Foreign Office spokesman told AFP.

“The chartered plane he was scheduled to fly on experienced significant technical difficulties prior to take off.

“We are currently exploring alternative ways for the president to participate in the conference.”

The spokesman would not confirm reports by the BBC that the plane had been sent by Britain, saying it had been chartered by Sierra Leone.

The aim of the London conference is to raise awareness of the scale of the outbreak in Sierra Leone, where Britain has taken the lead in fighting the deadly virus sweeping across West Africa.

Britain has pledged £120 million ($190 million, 150 million euros) to help build an estimated 700 treatment beds, fund new community treatment centres, support existing public health services and support aid agencies.

Officials are hoping to secure pledges of support and money at Thursday’s meeting, as well as to share best practices with those working in the other affected countries, Liberia and Guinea.

The Liberian and Guinean ambassadors were due to attend the conference as well as the Ghanaian deputy foreign minister and representatives from Nigeria, the United States, Canada, Cuba, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and many EU nations.

More than 3,300 people have died worldwide from Ebola and more than 7,000 have been infected since the beginning of the year, according to the World Health Organisation.