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Obama to announce Ebola aid, possible military intervention

This photo provided by Dr. Dan Lucey, of the Georgetown University Medical Center, shows a session he supervised to train local health workers how to properly put on and take off equipment to protect against the Ebola virus. Associated Press/Photo by Dan Lucey

Obama to announce Ebola aid, possible military intervention

With Ebola now infecting more than 4,784 West Africans, killing at least 2,400 of them, the world—from Cuba to the United States—is stepping up its response.

U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Atlanta on Tuesday, where The Wall Street Journal reports he will outline a ramped-up response plan at the headquarters for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The United States has spent more than $100 million on the crisis, and Obama has asked Congress for another $88 million.

Aid organizations have warned and pleaded for weeks that there aren’t nearly enough health workers, and the ones who are there are exhausted. Cuba’s health ministry announced Friday it will send more than 160 doctors and volunteers to West Africa to help fight Ebola, drawing praise from the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the Journal, Obama’s strategy likely will build on what the United States has already been doing, including sending portable hospitals, recruiting doctors, and training workers both in Africa and the United States. More than 100 CDC workers are already in West Africa, helping track down those exposed to the virus, and the agency is setting up safety training in Anniston, Ala., for doctors and volunteers from non-governmental aid groups.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has helped deliver hundreds of thousands of protective suits and hygiene kits since March and has announced plans to spend another $75 million on 130,000 protective suits and 1,000 beds. Equipment shortages have left doctors to use less than ideal safety equipment, and many Ebola patients are lying on the ground.

Obama’s plan could also involve a military component, the Journal reported, because many believe the military could better organize the disjointed response. The U.S. military is already setting up a specialized 25-bed hospital for health workers in Liberia. The United Kingdom’s military is setting up a similar 12-bed facility in Sierra Leone, USAID director Dr. Rajiv Shaw told NPR. “These higher-order more sophisticated medical care facilities will allow healthcare workers who get sick to have access to very high quality treatment right there, right away,” Shah said.

Those centers are especially important because health workers are at high risk for contracting the disease, and the affected countries have some of the lowest doctor-to-citizen ratios in the world. A fourth high-profile Sierra Leonean doctor died Saturday after the WHO denied the government’s request for funds to evacuate him to Germany.

Experts are skeptical that the increased response will be enough. The United Nations says it needs at least $600 million to fight the disease. Liberian officials last week warned that Monrovia alone needs 1,000 beds, and current plans would only bring the total to 500. “There is not a single bed available for an Ebola patient in the entire country of Liberia,” WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan said, adding that a further 1,500 health workers are desperately needed.

Even getting supplies and volunteers to exhausted workers has been a challenge. Airlines and entire countries have banned flights to the affected areas. But UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that Ghana has agreed to let the world use its airport in Accra for flights into and out of Monrovia. The State Department has also dedicated about $4.9 million for a Georgia-based air ambulance service. The six month contract places the service on call for any American Ebola-infected government employees and aid workers.

American missionary doctor Rick Sacra has steadily improved since being evacuated Sept. 5 to Nebraska, where he received a blood transfusion from Ebola survivor and friend Dr. Kent Brantly. Sacra’s wife and doctors said Friday his appetite has started to return. A hefty pint of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream helped Sacra exceed doctor’s orders to begin eating at least 1,000 calories a day.

Doctors have not released any information on the condition of the unidentified fourth American being treated in Atlanta.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.


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