The Ebola outbreak was declared as a threat to world peace by the UN Security Council on Thursday, with a call on countries to provide urgent aid to West Africa, the epicenter of the growing crisis.
The 15-member council unanimously adopted a resolution after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that the number of Ebola infections -- already more than 5,000 -- was doubling every three weeks, notably in Liberia.
It was only the third resolution on a public health emergency to be approved in the history of the United Nations. The council voted on measures to address the AIDS pandemic in 2000 and 2011.
The council heard a desperate appeal from Liberian medical aid worker Jackson Naimah for assistance to beat back the epidemic that has left at least 2,600 dead in West Africa.
"Please send your helicopters, your centers, your beds and your expert personnel," said Naimah, speaking on video link from Monrovia.
"We do not have the capacity to respond to this crisis. If the international community does not stand up, we will be wiped out."
In its resolution, the council declared that the "unprecedented extent of the Ebola outbreak in Africa constitutes a threat to international peace and security" and warned that "peacebuilding gains... could be reversed" in West Africa.
It called on countries to "provide urgent assistance, including deployable medical capabilities such as field hospitals" with staff and supplies, laboratories, clinics and to provide "support capabilities for airlift."
The measure also urged nations to lift travel and border restrictions, and asked airlines and shipping companies to maintain their links with affected countries.
World Health Organization director Margaret Chan said the Ebola outbreak is "likely the greatest peacetime challenge that the United Nations and its agencies have ever faced."
- Ebola mission -
The United Nations has said nearly $1 billion would be needed to defeat the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola, which is on track to infect 20,000 people by the end of the year.
Ban announced plans to set up a new UN mission to combat Ebola, with its headquarters in West Africa.
"Our best estimate is that we need a 20-fold increase in assistance," he added.
An "Ebola summit" is due to be held next week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to further mobilize aid and resources to fight the disease.
The World Bank this week warned of a "potentially catastrophic blow" to the economies of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone -- with growth rates slashed and government revenues hit hard.
Speaking on behalf of the medical aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Naimah described a crippling shortage of beds, forcing health care workers to turn away patients.
"Right now, as I speak, people are sitting at the gates of our centers, literally begging for their lives," he said.
The UN has set a goal of stopping the spread of Ebola within six to nine months but MSF has called the response so far "lethally inadequate."
A special representative will be appointed soon by Ban to lead the Ebola crisis mission, which is to be the focal point for the international response to the epidemic.
The United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) will have its headquarters in the region, but not in the three most affected nations, where country offices will be opened.