Obama Ramps Up Response to Ebola Epidemic

Thousands of US military personnel will deploy to West Africa.

With the Ebola epidemic in West Africa threatening to reach global proportions, the United States government has announced a comprehensive response to halt the spread of the virus.

During a visit to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), President Barack Obama outlined a plan that calls for up to 3000 military personnel to be deployed to the affected region. The current epidemic has caused more than 2000 fatalities, with approximately 5000 confirmed and suspected cases in West Africa.

“Hospitals, clinics, and the few treatment centers that do exist have been completely overwhelmed,” Obama said during a news conference. “An already very weak public health system is near collapse in these countries. Patients are being turned away, and people are literally dying in the streets.”

The current epidemic could infect more than 20,000 people before the outbreak is brought under control, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Under a hypothetical worst-case scenario, the current Ebola burden could expand to 277,124 patients by the end of 2014, according to researchers from Arizona State University and the University of Tokyo.

President Obama said the American response effort to contain the crisis has 4 main goals. Personnel will seek to control the outbreak, address the ripple effects on local economies to prevent a massive humanitarian disaster, coordinate a broader global response, and develop public health systems in affected areas to prepare for future outbreaks.

The response plan will include a number of measures to achieve these goals. For instance, US military personnel will establish a military command center in Liberia that will support civilian efforts in the region to coordinate command and control, logistics, and engineering. President Obama said the United States will also create an air bridge to transport health workers and medical supplies into West Africa more effectively, build a staging area in Senegal to distribute personnel and aid on the ground more effectively, and establish a new training site to train thousands of health workers to care for patients effectively and safely.

In addition, personnel from the US Public Health Service will deploy to newly established field hospitals in Liberia, while a collaborative effort will distribute supplies and information kits to hundreds of thousands of families to better protect themselves throughout West Africa. The US response effort will also include building additional treatment units with new isolation spaces and more than 1000 beds.

Personnel from the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps will provide direct patient care to health workers in Liberia to help ensure medical personnel are able to treat the infected.

“The Commissioned Corps are trained and ready to respond to public health crises and humanitarian missions,” said Acting Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, MD, MPH, in a press release. “The dedicated officers have the skills to make a significant impact in one of the international community’s most devastating public health emergencies.”

President Obama added that American scientists will continue work to develop a vaccine to stop the Ebola virus entirely.

“We know the science. We know how to prevent it from spreading,” he said. “But…we can’t dawdle on this one. We have to move with force and make sure that we are catching this as best we can, given that it has already broken out in ways that we had not seen before.”