White House

Obama to send 3,000 U.S. military to Africa to help against Ebola

Health workers place the body of a man, inside a plastic body bag, as he is suspected of dying due to the Ebola virus whilst a small crowd watch in Monrovia, Liberia,Sept. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
Health workers place the body of a man, inside a plastic body bag, as he is suspected of dying due to the Ebola virus whilst a small crowd watch in Monrovia, Liberia,Sept. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh) ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Barack Obama plans to dispatch 3,000 U.S. military personnel to Africa as part of a major U.S. boost to counter the outbreak of Ebola as world health agencies warn that there aren’t enough medical personnel willing to work there to stem the tide of the disease.

Obama will announce the new push on Tuesday during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. It will include a U.S.-led joint command center in Monrovia, Liberia, 17 new Ebola treatment centers that will each treat as many as 100 patients, and 3,000 U.S. military personnel to help train health care providers and open treatment units. The planned push would have the capacity to train up to 500 health care workers a week, officials said Monday evening.

The U.S. will also initially provide 400,000 households in affected areas in Liberia with sanitation kits that will include medication, along with sanitizers.

The plan comes as international health organizations have criticized the U.S. and other government responses as inadequate to the scope of the problem. Administration officials, who asked for anonymity to speak ahead of Obama’s announcement, said the new steps reflect the administration’s belief it needs to “partner and lead” an international response to the outbreak, which as of Friday had killed more than 2,400 people and infected nearly 5,000.

Obama will make the remarks as he tours the Atlanta headquarters of the CDC, which has already deployed more medical personnel than ever before as the epidemic cuts through four West African countries. Administration officials said the epidemic had “grown exponentially” and that what was needed was a bigger response “and American leadership and know how.”

They noted that dozens of cases have turned into hundreds and that “if we do not arrest that growth now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of cases.”

Obama has identified the outbreak as a top national security priority, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said earlier Monday, and the visit to the CDC “underscores just how extraordinarily serious the administration believes this issue is.”

Administration officials said they expect U.S. and European intervention will help “turn the tide from a high transmission epidemic that continues to grow every single day to one … where we start to see over many months a reduction in cases and deaths.”

The U.S. military, which now has one mobile laboratory in the disease area, has two more on the way and plans to open a previously-announced 25-bed hospital, a senior administration official said.

The military will also bump up training and engineering support to build the additional Ebola units, the official said. U.S. Africa Command will set up a joint force command headquarters in Liberia to coordinate U.S. government and international relief efforts.

A U.S. Army General from the Africa Command will oversee the U.S. military operation, and should be in place by the end of the week, the official said.

The military will also set up a staging base to help the U.S. Agency for International Development.

At the same time, the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps plans to send 65 administrators, clinicians and support staff to Liberia to manage and staff an already announced Defense Department hospital for healthcare workers who become ill.

White House officials said they still consider the chance of an outbreak in the U.S. to be a “very low probability” and said most of the U.S. efforts will be focused on containing the disease in West Africa, particularly in Liberia, where the rate of transmission is considered the most urgent.

The U.S. also plans to help “galvanize” a global security response, officials said, noting that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers will lead a UN Security Council meeting on the issue this week and the White House next week will hold a global health security summit.

Administration officials said the U.S. has already put $175 million into the effort and has more than 100 CDC experts in West Africa working to diagnosis cases and trace contacts.

The administration briefed members of Congress on the plans Monday and is asking for $88 million in a short-term budget bill that Congress is expected to take up this week. The military will be using about $500 million in unobligated overseas contingency funds, officials said.

World Health Organization officials told reporters Friday at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva that the number of new patients is increasing faster than the capacity to manage them. Director-general Margaret Chan said the world health community needs three to four times as many resources at it has committed “to catch up with the outbreaks.”