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Operation United Assistance Helps in Liberian Ebola Fight

By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, September 29, 2014 — The Defense Department’s contribution to the fight against Ebola in Liberia is taking shape as more service members and building supplies arrive in Monrovia, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said here today.

DoD is working in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, the lead agency for the U.S. government’s range of efforts against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

According to the World Health Organization, or WHO, the ministries of health in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have reported 6,553 probable, confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola virus disease and 3,083 deaths in the Ebola outbreak as of Sept. 23.

Among the three nations, WHO notes, Liberia has reported the highest number of cases, at 3,458, and deaths, at 1,830.

U.S. service members in Monrovia

Warren said that about 150 U.S. service members are now in the Liberian capital Monrovia, conducting a range of activities in support of USAID, as U.S. Africa Command sets up a joint force command headquarters there to support U.S. military activities.

Army Maj. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, commander of U.S. Army Africa, Africom’s Army component, commands the joint center and Operation United Assistance.

Warren said a 25-bed hospital arrived over the weekend, its parts distributed among three C-17 aircraft. The hospital, which he said came from Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, will be dedicated to treating health care workers who become infected with Ebola.

“There's a groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for today,” Warren added, “and we expect the 25-bed hospital will be up and running sometime in the middle of October.”

Forty more personnel also arrived over the weekend, he said. Thirty-four will be dedicated to setting up the hospital, and six will set up a mobile laboratory.

Ebola treatment units forthcoming

“We are planning to set up 17 Ebola treatment units, each with a 100-bed capacity,” Warren said. “These have not yet begun to flow in, but we do anticipate having the initial [units] set up and functional in the next several weeks.” As they are completed, he added, the units will be turned over to the Liberian government and staffed by local and international health care providers, not by military personnel.

WHO reported that 360 Ebola treatment beds were available in Monrovia as of Sept. 21. Completing the 17 new units will add 1,700 more treatment beds to help the desperately sick population in that city and beyond.

Warren said the Operation United Assistance personnel also will set up a training facility for health care workers near Monrovia, as well as an intermediate staging base in Senegal.

“The president has made it very clear that this is a national security priority,” Warren said. “The Department of Defense is moving as fast as it possibly can to support USAID in this effort.”

Global Health Security Agenda

On Sept. 26, President Barack Obama hosted representatives of 44 countries at the White House for a summit on the Global Health Security Agenda.

The GHSA encompasses a group of capabilities that all countries eventually must have to make the world safer and more secure. As nations gain capabilities, such as disease surveillance and reporting, they will be able to act together as an international community to prevent, detect and respond to all infectious disease outbreaks.

“Ebola will not be the last biological threat we face,” the chair of the GHSA, this year the United States, said in a statement released after the summit.

“Even today, in other parts of the world, highly pathogenic avian influenza, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, and drug-resistant bacteria continue to pose serious threats to the health and well-being of all people,” the statement said.

“The same resolve we are demonstrating in the face of Ebola,” it added, “must be sustained so that robust health systems are in place to enable a more rapid and effective response to the next outbreak, no matter what the source.”

The summit announced over 100 new commitments to implement 11 action packages, including specific targets and indicators that will be used as a basis for making sure that national, regional and global capacities are developed and maintained over the long term.

The action packages and commitments made to them will form the core GHSA work over the next five years, the statement said.

Grand Challenge for Development

After the summit, Obama announced a Grand Challenge to help health care workers fight Ebola. On Sept. 27, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah posted a notice about it on his blog.

“This Grand Challenge for Development will unite the global community in the quest for ingenious ideas that deliver practical and cost-effective innovations in a matter of months, not years,” he wrote.

He asked for new ideas to help ensure that treatment sites, communal transport units and burial sites don’t become infection sources, and for new solutions that strengthen the safety and increase the comfort of protective suits worn by health care workers -- from improving the fabric design to measuring a health worker's temperature and heart rate.

“We need new ways to simplify clinical processes, including point-of-care diagnostics. And we need new tools that continue to create a safer clinical environment, including improving infection control and waste disposal,” Shah wrote.

With international partners, he added, the United States will translate the expertise and ingenuity of scientists, innovators, engineers and students worldwide into real solutions.

“With your bold thinking and engagement we can give health workers the tools they need to win this fight,” Shah said.

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)