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OTTAWA, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Canada will send up to 40 military staff to Sierra Leone to help battle Ebola, the government said on Thursday as it also launched a campaign to recruit healthcare workers to help operate treatment centers in three West African countries.
The death toll in the world's worst Ebola epidemic had risen to 5,689 out of 15,935 cases reported in eight countries as of Nov. 23, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.
Almost all cases, and all but 15 deaths, have been in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the three West African countries that have been hardest hit.
"Up to 40 Canadian armed forces health care and support staff will deploy to Sierra Leone for up to six months to support efforts on the ground in West Africa," the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson told a news conference that the specialists would arrive by the end of December.
Canadian military doctors, nurses and support staff will work with British counterparts at a unit just outside Freetown that treats local and international healthcare workers who have been exposed to the virus, he said.
The deployment represents a shift in position for Canada, which had said it would not send more experts to the affected region unless there was a guarantee they could be medically evacuated if necessary. Health Minister Rona Ambrose said Canada now has the guarantees it needed.
Sierra Leone appealed to the United States on Wednesday to send military aid to help it battle Ebola.
As well as announcing the dispatch of the medical specialists, Canada launched an appeal for healthcare workers to go to the worst affected areas. Those accepted will have a week's training, spend four weeks in West Africa and then rest for three weeks.
Earlier this month, Canada said it had launched a clinical trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine developed at its national microbiology laboratory and expects to have the results in early 2015. No cases of Ebola have been reported in Canada.
Canada has also donated around 1,000 doses of the vaccine to the World Health Organization. Gregory Taylor, Canada's chief public health officer, said most of the doses have been used for clinical trials. (Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway)