In a speech this morning before the United Nations Security Council summit on foreign terrorist fighters, President Barack Obama likened this distant yet urgent problem to another remote but rising global threat -- the Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa.
Each problem demands immediate attention, he told the council, and said the United Nations would continue “mobilizing other countries to join us in making concrete commitments, significant commitments, to fight this outbreak and enhance our system of global health security for the long-term.”
The president added, “We, collectively, have not invested adequately in the public health capacity of developing countries.”
As the council gathered in New York, Obama told the members, an outbreak of Ebola overwhelms public health systems in West Africa and threatens to move rapidly across borders.
The World Health Organization was first notified of the outbreak in March but investigations revealed that it actually began in December 2013. Between that time and Sept. 23, 5,864 cases and 2,811 deaths have been reported to WHO.
Experts at WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, expect many thousands more cases and deaths over the next several months.
Containing the outbreak, pursuing new treatments
“As we speak,” Obama said, “America is deploying our doctors and scientists, supported by our military, to help contain the outbreak of Ebola and pursue new treatments.”
In the days after Sept. 16, when Obama announced an expanded U.S. effort in the fight against Ebola in West Africa, U.S. Africa Command began setting up a Joint Force Command Headquarters in Monrovia, Liberia, to support U.S. military activities and help coordinate U.S. and international relief efforts.
Army Maj. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, the U.S. Army Africa commander who leads the U.S. military response, Operation United Assistance, arrived in Liberia on Sept. 17 with a 12-person assessment team to conduct on-the-ground planning and site surveys needed to build Ebola treatment units.
Today at the Pentagon, Army Col. Steven Warren, a Defense Department spokesman, said about 100 personnel are on the ground now in Monrovia conducting activities in support of the joint forces command.
The first flights carrying parts of a 25-bed field hospital that will be used to treat infected health care workers are expected to start arriving early next week. Once all the parts arrive, he added, the hospital should be set up within about 10 days.
Also helping with the effort in Liberia, Warren said, are three technical personnel working in laboratory facilities and the Defense Department has provided more than 10,000 Ebola test kits. Five military planners also are on the ground as part of a U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, Disaster Assistance Response Team.
The 28-member DART team, deployed to West Africa to coordinate and prioritize the U.S. government’s outbreak response, also includes staff from USAID, CDC and the U.S. Forest Service.
USAID has the lead for U.S. Ebola efforts in West Africa, Warren added.
A broader effort is needed
At the United Nations, Obama told the council that a broader effort is needed “to stop a disease that could kill hundreds of thousands, inflict horrific suffering, destabilize economies, and move rapidly across borders.”
Later this week, also in support of global health security, Obama and National Security Adviser Susan Rice will host a ministerial-level White House event with leaders from nations that have made commitments to an initiative launched in February called the Global Health Security Agenda, or GHSA.
The GHSA is an international effort to accelerate progress toward developing capabilities to counter worldwide biological threats to security so a global health crisis in one area can’t expand to overwhelm national governments and destabilize nations and regions.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will participate in the White House event.
During a Sept. 16 visit to CDC, Obama spoke about the dangers of the Ebola epidemic.
“Today thousands of people in West Africa are infected. That number could rapidly grow to tens of thousands. And if the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with 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,” Obama added, “it’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic. That has profound effects on all of us, even if we are not directly contracting the disease.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)
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