17 September 2014
Obama says world has ‘responsibility to act, to step up and do more’ in response to Ebola
President Obama urged world powers to accelerate the global response to the Ebola outbreak that is ravaging West Africa, warning that unless health care workers, medical equipment and treatment centers were swiftly deployed, the disease could take hundreds of thousands of lives. Mr. Obama said at a meeting with doctors who had just returned from West Africa that the world ‘has the responsibility to act, to step up and to do more. The United States intends to do more.’ He announced a major American deployment to Liberia and Senegal of medicine, equipment and 3,000 military personnel.
Global health officials said that time was running out, and although the American contribution could make a difference, a coordinated assault in Africa from other Western powers was essential to bringing the virus under control. ‘Everyone realizes that no one group or one country or one organization is going to be able to tackle this’, according to Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank and an expert in infectious diseases. He praised the American effort as ‘extremely encouraging’, but said it remained unclear how the US would coordinate its effort with relief groups.
Administration officials said they urgently needed stronger responses from Britain and France, countries that have colonial ties to the three hardest-hit African countries: Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. So far, France has sent USD 13 million to Guinea for two tons of medical equipment and the construction of medical centers, and USD 15.5 million and 24 doctors to Senegal and Ivory Coast, other former French colonies. British troops, the government said, are headed to Sierra Leone, a former British colony, to build and staff a 63-bed facility near the capital, Freetown.
How fast the American military can build 17 treatment centers of 100 beds each in Liberia, as planned, is still in question. Liberian officials say 1,000 beds are needed there in the next week alone to contain the disease. American military officials cautioned that they were not close to getting that number of beds up and running and said it would take time — perhaps as long as two weeks — before personnel arrived to begin setting up the first treatment centers. US Defense Department officials said that once constructed, the treatment centers would be turned over to Liberia and staffed by local and international health care providers, although health care experts say they are having difficulty finding doctors. A small number of American physicians and nurses are among the 3,000 military personnel en route to Liberia and Senegal, but administration officials said they would serve as trainers to other health care workers.
Some health experts said the Obama’s plan focused too much on Liberia and not enough on Guinea and Sierra Leone. However, besides Liberia’s historical ties to the US, half a year after the start of the outbreak, the Liberian authorities remain incapable of carrying out the most basic steps needed to stop the spread of Ebola, including isolating potentially infectious people. Facing a deteriorating situation on the ground and increasing pressure by politicians and the media to ‘outsource’ the battle, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf wrote to Mr. Obama and the leaders of China, Russia and several other countries asking for direct help.