DAKAR, Oct 19 (Reuters) - The Ebola outbreak in West Africa risks unleashing an economic catastrophe that will leave a "lost generation" of young West Africans, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said on Sunday, urging stronger international action.
The worst epidemic on record of the deadly virus has now killed more than 4,500 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Eight people have also died in Nigeria and cases have been reported in the United States and Spain.
Johnson Sirleaf said the international reaction to the outbreak, detected in March deep in the forests of southern Guinea, was initially "inconsistent and lacking in clear direction or urgency."
She said the international community had woken up to the global health risk posed by the epidemic but called for help from every nation with the capacity to do so, either in funding or medical staff and supplies.
"We all have a stake in the battle against Ebola," she said in an open letter read on the BBC World Service.
"It is the duty of all of us, as global citizens, to send a message that we will not leave millions of West Africans to fend for themselves against an enemy that they do not know, and against whom they have little defense."
Johnson Sirleaf, a former senior World Bank executive, said Ebola was having a dire economic impact in the worst affected countries, with harvests missed, markets shut and borders closed. She said the outbreak had undone much of the recovery achieved in the wake of Liberia's 1989-2003 civil war.
"Ebola is not just a health crisis - across West Africa, a generation of young people risk being lost to an economic catastrophe," she said. "The time for talking or theorizing is over. Only concerted action will save my country, and our neighbors, from experiencing another national tragedy."
Concern over the spread of Ebola in the United States -- where two nurses contracted the disease after treating a sick Liberian man -- has buffeted financial markets in recent days. President Barack Obama has appealed for Americans not to give in to hysteria or fear.
A former Nobel peace prize winner for her work on women's rights, Johnson Sirleaf said the whole world had a stake in fighting the virus.
"This disease respects no borders. It is the duty of all of us, as global citizens, to send a message that we will not leave millions of West Africans to fend for themselves against an enemy that they do not know, and against whom they have little defense." (; editing by Mark Heinrich)