The United States is ready to take leadership for a global response to the deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging West Africa, President Barack Obama said Tuesday, as he announced plans to send thousands of U.S. troops to the region.
“Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace, we are prepared to take leadership on this, to provide the type of capabilities that only America has and mobilize our resources in ways that only America can do,” he said.
The initiative, announced by Obama at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, comes as the virus has infected more than 5,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal.
Liberia has been the hardest hit, accounting for about half of the more than 2,500 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
Under the U.S. plan, 3,000 U.S. troops will be sent to a new command center in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, to help with the transportation of supplies and other personnel.
U.S. forces will construct 17 health care facilities of 100 beds each to isolate and treat victims. The U.S. mission will also set up a facility to train 500 health care workers per week.
“An already very weak public health system is near collapse in these (West African) countries. Patients are being turned away and people are literally dying in the streets,” Obama said. “Here’s the hard truth: in West Africa, Ebola is now an epidemic of the likes we have not seen before. It’s spiraling out of control, it is getting worse, it’s spreading faster and exponentially.”
The number of people infected could grow to tens or even hundreds of thousands, he warned, if the outbreak isn’t stopped now.
That would mean “profound political and economic and security implications for all of us,” he said. “This is an epidemic that is not just a threat to regional security, it’s a threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economics break down, if people panic. And that has a profound effect on all of us, even if we are not directly contracting the disease.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development— the government’s lead international aid agency— will also hand out protection kits and train people to protect themselves and their families. The effort will initially target the 400,000 most vulnerable households in Liberia, and then expand to cover the entire country and the region.
The World Health Organization has said it needs foreign medical teams with 500- 600 experts as well as at least 10,000 local health workers. So far Cuba and China have said they will send medical staff to Sierra Leone. Cuba will deploy 165 people in October while China is sending a mobile laboratory with 59 staff to speed up testing for the disease. It already has 115 staff and a Chinese-funded hospital there.