WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2015 —
The American and partner-nation fight in the last few months against the Ebola virus in West Africa has cut cases of the disease by 80 percent, President Barack Obama announced here today.
But the battle won’t be over until the caseload totals zero, he said.
The president spoke at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, addressing U.S. military and civilian personnel, thanking them for answering the call for help in the Ebola-affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Obama said the progress made in just a few months has been enormous.
“Last fall, we saw between 800 and 1,000 new cases a week,” he said of the region. “Today, we’re seeing between 100 and 150 cases a week.”
Last summer, as Ebola spread in West Africa and threatened to cross more borders, he said fighting the disease had to be “more than a national security priority, but an example of American leadership.”
Using Science to Override Fear
“People were understandably afraid,” Obama said. “But we believed if we made policy based ... on sound science and good judgment, America could lead an effective global response while keeping the American people safe, and we could turn the tide of the epidemic.”
Nearly 3,000 U.S. troops deployed to West Africa to set up logistics support, build Ebola treatment units and train more than 1,500 African health care workers, Obama said.
“We were a force multiplier,” he said.
The United States led a massive global effort to combat the epidemic, Obama said, and the nation mobilized other countries to help, while strengthening global health systems for the long term.
Many Federal Agencies Contributed
Numerous American agencies fought the Ebola battle, the president said. U.S. Agency for International Development teams directed the response, Centers of Disease Control representatives traced contacts of the ill to stop further spread of the disease, and health care workers and scientists helped contain the outbreak, he added.
“We launched the Global Health Security Agenda last year to bring more nations together to better prevent and detect and respond to future outbreaks before they become epidemics,” Obama said. “This was a wake-up call, and it’s going to be important to learn lessons from what we’ve done and sustain it into the future.”
Leading philanthropists who committed themselves to continue the work and find new ways to battle Ebola also contributed “more effective surveillance, prevention, and quick response to diseases in the future,” Obama said.
The Fight is Not Over
Overall, Obama noted, the team provided support for 10,000 civilian responders on the ground.
Some 1,500 American troops have already returned home from West Africa, and by April 30, about 100 workers will remain in the affected countries, the president said.
But America’s work is not done, he added.
Even a single case of Ebola poses risks, he said. “Every case is an ember that, if not contained, can light a new fire. So we’re shifting our focus ... to extinguishing it,” Obama said, crediting the Congressional bipartisan majority that approved funding to do so.
The United States continues to screen and monitor all arrivals from affected countries. And because Ebola entered the United States in a few cases, Obama noted that more hospitals are equipped with protective gear and protocols.
A few months ago, 13 states were able to test for the virus, and now, more than 54 labs operate in 44 states, he said, noting that medical facilities qualified to treat Ebola patients grew from three to 51 treatment centers. Six of the eight patients who were successfully treated in the United States were in the audience today, Obama said.
“America does not succumb to fear. We master the moment with bravery and courage, and selflessness and sacrifice, and relentless, unbending hope,” the president said, crediting the workers in the audience. “That’s what’s best in us, and we have to remember that because there will be other circumstances like this in the future.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)