WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2014 —
The nation is profoundly grateful to U.S. medical, development and military personnel who are serving in the fight against Ebola in West Africa, and other nations must step up more aggressively to stop the deadly epidemic at its source, President Barack Obama said yesterday.
The president held a news conference after a meeting on the U.S. Ebola response with senior health, homeland security and national security advisors.
Among them were Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Thomas Frieden.
The president’s advisors updated him on the Ebola case in Texas, the first travel-associated case to be diagnosed in the United States. They also discussed broader domestic preparedness plans and U.S. and international efforts to contain and end the epidemic in West Africa.
On U.S. efforts in West Africa, Obama said, “There’s already been extraordinary work done by the Department of Defense, in conjunction with the CDC, in standing up isolation units and hospital beds. We are making progress.”
This is a faraway place, he added, with roads that in many cases are impassable and areas that have no hospitals.
‘An enormous amount of effort’
“We’re having to stand up, essentially, a public health infrastructure in many of these areas that haven't had one before, and that requires an enormous amount of effort,” Obama said. “And I’ll be very honest with you -- although we have seen great interest on the part of the international community, we have not seen other countries step up as aggressively as they need to.”
During an Ebola meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month, Obama called the outbreak “an area where everybody has to chip in and everybody has to move quickly in order for us to get this under control.”
At yesterday’s news conference, the president added, “Countries that think they can sit on the sidelines and just let the United States do it, that will result in a less effective response, a less speedy response, and that means that people die.”
It also increases the chances that Ebola could spread beyond Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in West Africa, he said, where the World Health Organization says the total case count as of Oct. 1 for those countries is 7,470 probable, confirmed and suspected cases and 3,431 deaths.
Countries with localized cases include Nigeria, with 20 cases and eight deaths; Senegal, with two cases; and the United States, with one case.
Some large countries aren’t doing enough
“We’ve got some small countries that are punching above their weight on this, but we’ve got some large countries that aren’t doing enough,” Obama said. “We want to make sure they understand that this is not a disease that’s going to discriminate, and this is something that all of us have to be involved in.”
The president said he would put pressure on his fellow heads of state and government around the world to make sure they are doing everything that they can to join the United States in its efforts.
The United States already has committed more than $350 million to fighting the outbreak in West Africa, including more than $111 million in humanitarian aid, and DoD is prepared to devote more than $1 billion to the whole-of-government Ebola response effort, according to a White House fact sheet.
U.S. whole-of-government response
Highlights of the U.S. whole-of-government response include the following:
-- More than 130 civilian medical, health care and disaster-response experts from multiple U.S. government departments and agencies deployed to West Africa as part of USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, and about 350 U.S. military personnel.
-- The largest U.S. response to an international public health challenge.
-- Increased the number of Ebola treatment units in the region, including supporting treatment units in Sierra Leone and Liberia. One of the new treatment units in Liberia discharged its first four Ebola survivors last week.
-- Increased to 50 the number of safe burial teams that are now working across every county in Liberia to safely and respectfully dispose of bodies.
-- Deployed and began operation of five mobile Ebola testing labs in the region, two of which opened this week in Liberia and have doubled lab capacity in the country, reducing from several days to a few hours the time needed to determine if a patient has Ebola.
-- Provided more than 10,000 Ebola test kits to the Liberian Institute of Biological Research and Sierra Leone’s Kenema Government Hospital.
-- Procured 140,000 sets of personal protective equipment, 10,000 of which have already been delivered, along with hundreds of thousands of medical gloves and thousands of protective coveralls, goggles, face shields and other personal protective supplies.
-- Provided technical support to the Liberian government’s national-level emergency operation center.
The Ebola epidemic is a top national security priority, Obama said, and the United States will continue to do everything necessary to address it.
“I’m very grateful for the people who are on the front lines making this work. It’s a reminder once again of American leadership,” the president said. “But even with all the dedicated effort that our American personnel are putting in, they need to be joined by professionals from other countries who are putting up similar effort and similar resources. I hope they’re going to be paying attention over the next several weeks so we can get on top of this.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)