U.S. to Commit Up to 3,000 Troops to Fight Ebola in Africa

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WASHINGTON — Under pressure to do more to confront the Ebola outbreak sweeping across West Africa, President Obama on Tuesday is to announce an expansion of military and medical resources to combat the spread of the deadly virus, administration officials said.

The president will go beyond the 25-bed portable hospital that Pentagon officials said they would establish in Liberia, one of the three West African countries ravaged by the disease, officials said. Mr. Obama will offer help to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia in the construction of as many as 17 Ebola treatment centers in the region, with about 1,700 treatment beds.

Senior administration officials said Monday night that the Department of Defense would open a joint command operation in Monrovia, Liberia, to coordinate the international effort to combat the disease. The military will also provide engineers to help construct the additional treatment facilities and will send enough people to train up to 500 health care workers a week to deal with the crisis.

Officials said the military expected to send as many as 3,000 people to Africa to take charge of responding to the Ebola outbreak.

“We all recognize that this is such an extraordinary, serious epidemic,” a senior official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of Mr. Obama’s public remarks on Tuesday. The efforts should turn the tide from a high-transmission epidemic that continues to grow every day, other officials said.

The White House plan would increase the number of doctors and other health care workers being sent to West Africa from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other American agencies, officials said. 

The American government will also provide 400,000 Ebola home health and treatment kits to Liberia, as well as tens of thousands of kits intended to test whether people have the disease. The Pentagon will provide some logistical equipment for health workers going to West Africa and what administration officials described as “command and control” organizational assistance on how to coordinate the overall relief work. The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to be part of the Defense Department effort.

Administration officials did not say how soon the 17 treatment centers would be built in Liberia; officials there, as well as international aid officials, have said that 1,000 beds are needed in Liberia in the next week alone to contain a disease that has been spreading exponentially.

“It seems coordinated and coherent,” Dr. Schaffner said. He added that “the real core” was the Defense Department’s logistical support “because the heart of any kind of epidemic containment concept is getting the goods to the right place, putting up the institution.”

Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the plan was an important first step, “but it is clearly not enough.” The focus on Liberia, he said, is too limited, and more help should be extended to Sierra Leone and Guinea, the other countries at the center of the worst Ebola outbreak ever recorded.

“We should see all of West Africa now as one big outbreak,” Dr. Osterholm said. “It’s very clear we have to deal with all the areas with Ebola. If the U.S. is not able or not going to do it, that’s all the more reason to say the rest of the world has to do it.”

Top White House aides on Monday rejected criticism from African officials, doctors and representatives from aid groups who said the United States had been slow to act in the face of the disease. Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said the government, including the C.D.C., had committed more than $100 million since the outbreak started in the early spring.

“The C.D.C. has responded commensurate to the seriousness” of the crisis, Mr. Earnest told reporters ahead of a trip Mr. Obama has planned to the agency’s headquarters in Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Earnest called the response “among the largest deployments of C.D.C. personnel ever.”

Senior administration officials conceded that the effort must expand further as the outbreak threatens to spread in Africa and, potentially, beyond the continent. Officials said medical experts in the government were genuinely worried about the possibility of a mutation that could turn the virus into a more contagious sickness that could threaten the United States.

The World Health Organization has issued a dire Ebola warning for Liberia, saying that the number of afflicted patients was increasing exponentially and that all new treatment facilities were overwhelmed, “pointing to a large but previously invisible caseload.” The description of the crisis in Liberia suggested an even more chaotic situation there than had been thought.

Ms. Johnson Sirleaf, who has implored Mr. Obama to do more to help her country battle the disease, traveled over the weekend through Monrovia, the Liberian capital, with the United States ambassador, Deborah R. Malac.

“What is needed is on a scale that is unprecedented,” a senior administration official said in an interview, speaking on the condition of anonymity because she was not allowed by the White House to talk on the record ahead of Mr. Obama’s announcement.

The United States, a second senior administration official said, also plans to send 400,000 home protective kits to the four counties in Liberia that have been hardest hit by Ebola. The kits will include protective gear for family members, gloves and masks, disinfectants, and fever-reducing drugs.

That is worrisome, Dr. Osterholm said, because it is difficult to care for Ebola patients without becoming infected, and there is no proof that the kits will work. “We are going to endanger family members more by providing the kits,” he said.

Helene Cooper and Michael D. Shear reported from Washington, and Denise Grady from New York.

Source: New York Times

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