At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this afternoon, President Obama vowed that America would take on the “daunting task” of trying to stop the Ebola outbreak while keeping the virus from spreading to the States.
Obama said the work of the CDC “and our efforts across the government is an example of what happens when America leads in confronting some major global challenges.”
“Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace,” he said. “We’re prepared to take leadership on this to provide the kinds of capabilities that only America has, and to mobilize the world in ways that only America can do. That’s what we’re doing as we speak.”
Before flying to Atlanta, Obama met with Dr. Kent Brantly, the missionary who contracted Ebola while treating patients in Liberia. Brantly was cured after taking experimental drug ZMapp and flying back to the U.S. for supportive care.
Brantly appeared this afternoon before a joint hearing of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations.
The doctor described seeing cases come in during June and quickly “spiraling out of control.” He said he appealed for help from the international community but “our pleas appeared to fall on deaf ears.”
“This has been in eye of the government for months,” Brantly told senators. “We can’t afford to wait months or even weeks for action.” Tens of thousands will die at the current rate of infection, he warned, if the response lags for a couple of months.
The response to the Ebola outbreak thus far has been “sluggish and unacceptably out of step with the scope and size” of the problem, he stressed.
Brantly called the outbreak “a fire straight from the pit of hell” and warned that Americans shouldn’t think the physical buffer of the Atlantic Ocean “will protect us from the flames of this fire.”
At midnight, the White House announced a broader anti-Ebola strategy to use “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,” the White House said.
“First and foremost, I want the American people to know that our experts, here at the CDC and across our government, agree that the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low,” Obama said today.
“We’ve been taking the necessary precautions, including working with countries in West Africa to increase screening at airports so that someone with the virus doesn’t get on a plane for the United States. In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we’ve taken new measures so that we’re prepared here at home.”
The president remarked on his meeting with Brantly, saying the doctor “looks strong and we are incredibly grateful to him and his family for the service that he has rendered to people who are a lot less lucky than all of us.”
Obama called Ebola “now an epidemic of the likes that we have not seen before.”
“It’s spiraling out of control. It is getting worse. It’s spreading faster and exponentially. Today, thousands of people in West Africa are infected. That number could rapidly grow to tens of thousands. And if the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us,” he continued.
“…And we’ve devoted significant resources in support of our strategy with four goals in mind. Number one, to control the outbreak. Number two, to address the ripple effects of local economies and communities to prevent a truly massive humanitarian disaster. Number three, to coordinate a broader global response. And number four, to urgently build up a public health system in these countries for the future — not just in West Africa but in countries that don’t have a lot of resources generally.”
Obama compared the command center that the U.S. will set up in Liberia to “our response after the Haiti earthquake.”
Major Gen. Darryl Williams, commander of Army forces in Africa, arrived on the ground in Liberia today to start setting up the headquarters.
“We’re going to create an air bridge to get health workers and medical supplies into West Africa faster. We’re going to establish a staging area in Senegal to help distribute personnel and aid on the ground more quickly. We are going to create a new training site to train thousands of health workers so they can effectively and safely care for more patients. Personnel from the U.S. Public Health Service will deploy to the new field hospitals that we’re setting up in Liberia,” Obama said. “And USAID will join with international partners and local communities in a Community Care Campaign to distribute supplies and information kits to hundreds of thousands of families so they can better protect themselves.”
The president stressed a global response needs to happen “faster than they have up until this point.”
“This is actually something that we had announced several months ago at the G7 meeting. We determined that this has to be a top priority; this was before the Ebola outbreak. We anticipated the fact that in many of these countries with a weak public health system, if we don’t have more effective surveillance, more effective facilities on the ground, and are not helping poor countries in developing their ability to catch these things quickly, that there was at least the potential of seeing these kinds of outbreaks. And sadly, we now see that our predictions were correct,” Obama said.
“…The reality is that this epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better. But right now, the world still has an opportunity to save countless lives. Right now, the world has the responsibility to act — to step up, and to do more. The United States of America intends to do more. We are going to keep leading in this effort.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), ranking member on the Senate health committee, said “the spread of this disease deserves a more urgent response from our country and other countries around the world than it’s now getting.”
“We must take the dangerous, deadly threat of Ebola as seriously as we take ISIS. Let me say that again. We must take the dangerous, deadly threat of the Ebola epidemic as seriously as we take ISIS. I think I have a reputation as a senator who’s not given to overstatement. I don’t believe that’s an overstatement,” Alexander said.
“…This is one of the most explosive deadly epidemics in modern time if we do not do what we know how do to control it.”