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Obama to Announce Africom Joint Force Command HQ in Liberia

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U.S. Africa Command will set up a Joint Force Command Headquarters in Liberia to support U.S. military activities and help coordinate expanded U.S. and international relief efforts to fight the West Africa Ebola outbreak, senior administration officials said on a call previewing President Barack Obama’s visit today to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

At CDC, the officials said, the president will speak with and hear from the team of experts who have been working hard on the U.S. government's response to the Ebola outbreak and epidemic in West Africa to date.

“The president has said that the United States considers the Ebola outbreak and epidemic in West Africa to be a national security priority and he has directed a response commensurate with that priority,” the officials added.

DoD support of interagency partners

In Africa, in terms of the Defense Department’s role, by the end of the week a general officer will be in place in Monrovia, Liberia, leading the regional effort known as Operation United Assistance, the officials said, describing the second of three new lines of effort DoD is adding to ongoing efforts.

“The department is part of the whole-of-government approach to help affected countries deal with one of the world's worst public health crises and the most devastating Ebola outbreak in history,” one official said.

“The Department of Defense is committed to supporting our interagency partners, specifically [the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID] and the Centers for Disease Control, as we collectively -- working together every day -- respond to the outbreak in West Africa,” the official added.

As a third line of effort, U.S. Africa Command will establish a regional intermediate staging base to facilitate DoD support for operations of USAID and other counterparts. Africom will also provide engineers to build more Ebola treatment units and establish a training site to train up to 500 health care providers a week to directly care for Ebola patients, the senior administration official said.

Ebola outbreak

According to the World Health Organization, the total number of probable, confirmed and suspected cases in the current outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa, was 4,366, with 2,218 deaths, as of Sept. 7. Countries affected are Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

Of these countries, Liberia has the greatest number of total probable, confirmed and suspected cases, at 2,081, with 1,137 deaths, or 55 percent of total cases.

December 30, 2013, was epidemiological week 1 for the outbreak. Sept. 7 was epidemiological week 36.

One official said the president will detail a significant expansion of the Ebola fight that “represents a set of areas where the U.S. military will bring a unique capability we believe will improve the effectiveness of the entire global response.”

Expanding Ebola treatment capability

The official described such capabilities as those that would help expand access in Ebola treatment units throughout the region, improve first responders' capacity to identify and diagnose cases and trace contacts, and improve the ability to conduct well-supplied community care campaigns that reach every primary health care center throughout Liberia and eventually the region to reduce the risk of transmission.

“We believe these efforts taken in total along with significant efforts made to expand the international investment … as part of the comprehensive response will turn the tide from the high-transmission epidemic that continues to grow every single day to one where … we start to see over many months a significant reduction in cases and deaths,” a senior administration official said.

At DoD, to date the department has deployed operational planners and contributed more than 10,000 sets of personal protective equipment and more than 10,000 diagnostic assay kits, which are blood-test kits for the Ebola virus.

DoD brings skill sets

The department also has one mobile laboratory on the ground and has two more on the way to West Africa, and it’s preparing to deploy a 25-bed hospital that will be used to treat health care providers, the highest-risk group of people in the region.

“DoD is going to remain focused on all these efforts but we're also going to … focus on contributing command and control, logistics support, training and engineering support,” one of the senior administration officials said.

“We're bringing those skill sets that are unique to DoD in direct support of our interagency partners,” the official added, “to address the ongoing Ebola crisis in western Africa.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)

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