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Rodriguez Pledges Every Effort to Protect Military From Ebola

By Nick Simeone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2014 — Everything possible will be done to mitigate risks of exposure to Ebola by U.S. military personnel deployed to Liberia to contain the epidemic, the commander of U.S. Africa Command said today.

There are no plans for the U.S. military to provide direct care to Ebola patients, Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez told reporters at the Pentagon. Personnel from the U.S. Naval Medical Research Center will, however test for Ebola at mobile labs from samples collected from area clinics and health care providers.

Trained to guard against exposure

Rodriguez said the three or four people who will staff each lab will be trained to the highest level and will be prepared to guard against exposure.

“They can operate in a nuclear, biological and chemical environment,” he noted. “They are specifically trained to do that, and that's their primary skill set.”

Pressed by reporters to explain the risks to Americans operating the mobile labs, Rodriguez strongly discounted the likelihood of contamination. “It’s a very, very high standard that these people have operated in all their lives, and this is their primary skill,” he emphasized. “This is not just medical guys trained to do this.”

National security priority

Seven such labs are expected to be set up in Liberia for Ebola testing. The U.S. military presence in the West African nation is expected to grow to up to 4,000, with personnel establishing a hospital facility and providing logistics and engineering support, as well as training of up to 500 health care workers per week to help treat patients and prevent the spread of the virus, which President Barack Obama yesterday called a national security priority.

Seventeen Ebola treatment facilities are expected to be set up in Liberia by November, Rodriguez said, acknowledging that the pace of operations has been challenging. “Their whole nation is overwhelmed,” the general said. “Their health facilities are overwhelmed. That’s all broken down, so we have to bring in everything at the same time.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called the Ebola outbreak in West Africa the largest in history, with more than 3,400 deaths reported. Nearly that number of cases alone has been reported in Liberia, where the disease continues to spread.

Ensuring safety of U.S. personnel

About 240 Defense Department personnel are currently in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, and another 108 are in nearby Senegal in support of U.S government efforts to stop the spread of the virus. More personnel are expected to flow into the region in the coming days, and Rodriguez said everything will be done to ensure their safety.

“By providing pre-deployment training, adhering to strict medical protocols while deployed and carrying out carefully planned reintegration measures based on risk and exposure,” the general told reporters, “I am confident that we can ensure our service members’ safety and the safety of their families and the American people.”

Rodriguez said the U.S. military could be deployed to Liberia in significant numbers for up to a year to support efforts led by the U.S. Agency for International Development to stop the spread of the virus.

(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: simeone@DoDNews)