President Barack Obama will announce today that the U.S. will lead an international effort to stem the deadly Ebola outbreak ravaging parts of western Africa, with expanded military and medical assistance.
The response includes distributing sanitation kits to households in the hardest-hit areas, delivering body bags to safely bury the victims, and building as many as 17 100-bed treatment facilities, according to administration officials, who asked for anonymity to describe the plan before it’s announced.
Obama is responding to requests from the United Nations and World Health Organization to increase the U.S. role. The goal is to slow and then halt the epidemic before it spreads further -- or possibly mutates to become even more dangerous, the officials said.
Obama, who has labeled the outbreak a national security priority, will announce the effort after meeting with researchers today at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
The worst outbreak of the viral disease on record has caused more deaths -- almost 2,500 -- than all previous ones combined, and the WHO has warned that infections may not have peaked yet.
The U.S. Africa Command will provide logistics, training and engineering as well as response coordinating, one of the officials said. About 3,000 troops will be involved.
By the end of this week, there will be an officer in place in Monrovia, Liberia, to lead the regional effort, according to the official. The command will provide engineers to build Ebola treatment facilities and will train as many as 500 health workers per week.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday the U.S. is “steadily ramping up” its response to the outbreak, which threatens to leave political instability and damaged economies in its wake.
“The other concern,” he said, is that “the more this virus is spread from person to person, the more likely it is that the virus could mutate in a way that makes it even more dangerous.”
Obama previously requested $88 million for the Ebola response in a measure to fund the federal government for the rest of the year, in addition to more than $100 million that is being shifted for the effort.
Of the additional money being sought money, $58 million is for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop Ebola vaccines for clinical trials and $30 million for CDC efforts in Africa.
The Pentagon has asked Congress to transfer $500 million, in part to support USAID and the CDC for Ebola assistance, according to a Sept. 8 budget document obtained by Bloomberg News. That would be in addition to $109 million requested for U.S. Africa Command and Central Command to provide assistance against the disease, according to the document.
The State Department plans to pay Phoenix Air Group of Cartersville, Georgia, as much as $4.9 million over six months to evacuate any U.S. workers who become infected, according to the document.
The WHO says that more than $600 million is needed to fund the battle against the disease, which will take about six to nine months to contain.
On Sept. 18, Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will lead an emergency UN Security Council meeting about Ebola. Next week, it will be a topic for discussion at the UN General Assembly in New York with Obama and other world leaders attending. On Sept. 26, Obama will host a global health security summit. The president, who has Kenyan ancestry, hosted a summit in Washington last month with leaders of African nations where Ebola was part of the discussion.
The U.S. is stepping up its response as African health and aid workers are dying after contracting the virus, or fleeing the region. There are no approved drugs to treat Ebola.
“Right now, the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is very low, but that risk would only increase if there were not a robust response on the part of the United States,” Earnest said.
Earnest said the U.S. has “unique capabilities” to assist the African nations and international aid groups, such as logistics and bringing in medical supplies and equipment.
After sweeping through Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the virus has reached Nigeria and Senegal, which reported its first case in late August. Before the current wave, a total of 2,387 cases had led to 1,590 deaths since it was first identified in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The CDC lists the virus, alongside anthrax and smallpox, as a Category A bioterrorism agent. Yet it remains relatively rare. By comparison, influenza kills as many as half a million people around the world annually.
The spread of Ebola has hobbled the economies of countries hardest hit -- Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea -- as airlines cancel flights, farms are idled and companies cut production.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has a hearing scheduled today about Ebola with testimony from Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health head of infectious diseases, and Kent Brantley, a U.S. doctor who contracted Ebola in Liberia when he was there as medical director for Samaritan’s Purse.