The commander of U.S. Africa Command told reporters at the Pentagon today that they are “implementing procedures to reduce or eliminate the risk of transmission to service members” battling Ebola in Liberia.
Gen. David Rodriguez said the “majority of the force” deployed to Liberia won’t come into contact with patients.
The command has set up headquarters in Monrovia, and Rodriguez said they “placed two additional mobile medical labs into operation last week, significantly increasing the capacity for rapidly diagnosing Ebola.”
“We are also establishing a facility capable of training health care support workers, enabling health care workers to safely provide direct medical care to patients,” the general continued. “…Let me assure you, by providing predeployment training, adhering to strict medical protocols while deployed, and carrying out carefully planned reintegration measures based on risk and exposure, I am confident that we can ensure our servicemembers’ safety and the safety of their families and the American people.”
Rodriguez said their safety procedures were developed by looking at Doctors Without Borders’ operations, along with guidance from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.
Measures intended to protect the nearly 4,000 service members will include “the use of personal protective equipment, hygiene protocols and constant monitoring.”
The cost of the mission over six months is estimated at around $750 million, he said.
“The mobile are testing people, OK? And some of them will have the Ebola virus,” Rodriguez replied when asked if soldiers will come into contact with Ebola victims. “Now, those are trained at the highest level of something like nuclear, biological and chemical. So they’re all trained at a very, very high level. And they’ve been — the one from Walter Reed has been operating there for many years, for example. And the two that we just deployed meet those standards of training.”
The command currently has three mobile labs deployed and “will probably deploy several others,” with each mobile lab carrying a three- to four-person team.
“And, again, those people are trained to the very highest level of operating in a nuclear, biological, and chemical arena, and they are tested continually, and they are the ones who are testing all the people. They will be the primary ones that come in contact with anybody,” Rodriguez said. “If somebody does contract Ebola and becomes symptomatic, they will be handled in — just like you’ve seen on the recent ones who came back on an aircraft that was specially designed to bring them back, and they’ll go back to one of the centers that is specially designed to handle the Ebola patients right now.”
Other troops will be working with Liberian forces to build emergency treatment units. The general said “all the people who are doing that are tested and meet all the medical protocols to ensure that they do not have the disease.”
“…The personal protective gear, the majority of the people will just deploy with personal protective gear that includes gloves and masks and things like that. They don’t need the whole suit, as such, because they’re not going to be in contact with any of the people.”
Standard rules of engagement apply, Rodriguez said, but “when these people get infected and they — they are not capable of, you know, doing a — you know, a mounted attack or anything.”
Of the length of the mission, he said, “We’re going to stay as long as we’re needed, but not longer than we’re needed.”