The White House has decided to up its anti-Ebola effort in West Africa, allocating 3,000 U.S. forces to Liberia “to help bring the epidemic under control.”
A Sept. 12 update by the World Health Organization reported 4,366 confirmed, suspected or probable cases of the Ebola virus, with 2,218 deaths as of Sept. 7. Cases are centered in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
The virus was introduced into Senegal on Aug. 20 by a person who traveled overland from Guinea.
“There has been no indication of any downturn in the epidemic in the three countries that have widespread and intense transmission (Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone), with a surge in new cases in Liberia a particular cause for concern,” the WHO said.
More than 300 healthcare workers have contracted Ebola, and nearly half of those have died.
“Every outbreak of Ebola over the past 40 years has been contained, and we are confident that this one can—and will be—as well,” the White House said in a late-night fact sheet that declared partnerships with the affected countries and United Nations to combat the virus “just as we fortify our defenses at home.”
“The United States has applied a whole-of-government response to the epidemic, which we launched shortly after the first cases were reported in March. As part of this, we have dedicated additional resources across the federal government to address the crisis, committing more than $175 million to date,” the statement said. “We continue to work with Congress to provide additional resources through appropriations and reprogramming efforts in order to be responsive to evolving resource needs on the ground. Just as the outbreak has worsened, our response will be commensurate with the challenge.”
A key cog in the strategy will be using “the unique capabilities of the U.S. military and broader uniformed services to help bring the epidemic under control,” including “command and control, logistics expertise, training, and engineering support.”
“U.S. Africa Command will set up a Joint Force Command headquartered in Monrovia, Liberia, to provide regional command and control support to U.S. military activities and facilitate coordination with U.S. government and international relief efforts. A general from U.S. Army Africa, the Army component of U.S. Africa Command, will lead this effort, which will involve an estimated 3,000 U.S. forces.”
“Many” of the forces will be stationed at an intermediate staging base “to facilitate and expedite the transportation of equipment, supplies and personnel,” the White House added.
“Command engineers will build additional Ebola Treatment Units in affected areas, and the U.S. Government will help recruit and organize medical personnel to staff them… The United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is preparing to deploy 65 Commissioned Corps officers to Liberia to manage and staff a previously announced Department of Defense (DoD) hospital to care for healthcare workers who become ill. The deployment roster will consist of administrators, clinicians, and support staff.”
USAID will jump into the program with a campaign to “provide communities and households with protection kits, appropriate information and training on how to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
Currently, “more than 100” personnel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are on the ground in the region. The Obama administration has asked Congress for an additional $30 million to send more CDC workers and supplies.
Obama is also asking for an additional $58 million for the National Institutes of Health to develop an Ebola vaccine that has entered stage one clinical trials.
“Earlier this month, President Obama released a message to the people of West Africa to reinforce the facts and dispel myths surrounding Ebola,” the White House added. “The video was transcribed into French, Portuguese, and other local languages and was distributed to television and radio stations across the region. Tens of thousands of West Africans viewed or listened to the message.”
At home, the administration said the CDC is “working closely” with Customs and Border Protection and “assisting with exit screening and communication efforts in West Africa to prevent sick travelers from boarding planes.”
“Despite the tragic epidemic in West Africa, U.S. health professionals agree it is highly unlikely that we would experience an Ebola outbreak here in the United States, given our robust health care infrastructure and rapid response capabilities,” the fact sheet states. “Nevertheless, we have taken extra measures to prevent the unintentional importation of cases into the United States, and if a patient does make it here, our national health system has the capacity and expertise to quickly detect and contain this disease.”