(by Drew Hinshaw in Robertsville, Liberia, and Betsy McKay in Atlanta, The Wall Street Journal) – The American military effort against history’s deadliest Ebola outbreak is taking shape in West Africa, but concerns are mounting that the pace isn’t fast enough to check a virus that is spreading at a terrifying clip.
On Saturday, a handful of troops from the U.S. Navy’s 133rd Mobile Construction Battalion led a bulldozer through thigh-high grass outside Liberia’s main airport, bottles of hand sanitizer dangling from their belt loops.
They had been digging a parking lot in the East African nation of Djibouti this month when they received a call to build the first of a dozen or more tent hospitals the U.S intends to construct in this region. The soldiers started by giving the land a downward slope for water runoff – “to keep out any unwanted reptiles,” said Petty Officer Second Class Justin Holsinger.
While this team levels the earth, superiors hash out the still-uncertain details of the American intervention here.
The epidemic is showing signs of gaining speed – 6,574 cases had been reported officially as of Sept. 23, with 3,091 deaths. Those fatalities are more than double the number of both a month ago. The actual number of cases is believed to be three or four times as high. Had no international aid come, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, the number of cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone might have soared to 1.4 million by mid-January.
On Sunday, meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health said it is preparing to care for an American doctor who was exposed to the Ebola virus while volunteering in Sierra Leone.
“There is no argument the disease is out in front of the response,” said Ken Isaacs, vice president of programs and government relations for Samaritan’s Purse, who as an expert in humanitarian assistance is leading who is leading the relief organization’s Ebola efforts in Liberia. In terms of response, he added, “where we are today is where we should have been 60 to 90 days ago.”
Now, some help has arrived, partly in the form of a rare – if not unprecedented – U.S. effort. They will level swampy grassland, unload supplies and build tents, then train thousands of nurses from Sierra Leone and Liberia to treat Ebola.
The epidemic in Liberia and Sierra Leone will likely worsen until 70% of Ebola patients can find room in a treatment center or other setting where they can’t transmit the disease to others, the CDC said. Currently, just 18% do so, it said.
On Sept. 16, President Barack Obama ordered 3,000 U.S. soldiers into West Africa. In a speech at the United Nations on Thursday, Mr. Obama criticized the international response thus far and said other donors – governments and organizations – need to step up quickly with aid.
“Right now, everybody has the best of intentions, but people are not putting in the kinds of resources that are necessary to put a stop to this epidemic,” he said. More nations urgently need to contribute goods and services like health-care workers, equipment and air transport, he said.
Several countries and organizations have donated money and technical assistance, from the World Bank to Cuba, which is sending 165 doctors, nurses and other health specialists to the region. But more is needed, particularly because the health systems in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been overwhelmed.
Other help is beginning to arrive. On Sunday morning, a privately contracted 747 cargo plane landed with 2,016 rolls of plastic sheeting from the U.S. government, one of the materials needed to build an Ebola clinic.
It would take hours to unload the plane, the crew said. Liberia’s airport, built in 1942, had just three small forklifts. U.S. Air Force personnel will also have to repair the runway, or for the time being, just paint it so planes don’t land on parts in disrepair.
“Some companies would rather go to Afghanistan than come here,” said the plane’s loadmaster, Felix Curtis.
In the cockpit, a nervous first officer was wearing surgical gloves, a medical mask on his seat. He shared a pen with a Liberian, then darted to the bathroom to wash his hands: “Am I going to be OK?” he asked.
The files on most of Liberia’s Ebola cases are stored in three-ring binders on a shelf in an abandoned World War II-era chimpanzee testing lab, filled with bats. That is where the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases conducts blood tests for Ebola. A small three-ring binder holds all the case files from April 15 to Aug. 12. A binder twice that size holds the files from just five days in late September. “Well,” said Alec Hail, the doctor who supervises the testing. “That’s remarkable.”
Even with the U.S. response, the CDC fears thousands more lives may still be lost. New centers are filling up as quickly as they are built. On Sept. 21, the World Health Organization opened its second clinic in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. By evening, every bed was taken.
“I don’t think we can open them any faster,” said head clinician Anne Deborah Omoruto Atai. Near the doctor’s office, a fierce rainstorm was flooding part of the clinic.
Meanwhile, the embattled Liberian government is struggling to manage a response to the disease. Last week, an official at the health ministry—the focal point for the Ebola effort—died of Ebola.
Other workers abandoned the building, which on Thursday was being sprayed with chlorine. The next morning, the chief medical officer placed herself under 21-day quarantine, on concerns that she had been exposed.
That situation has created a desperate groundswell of support for the U.S. military mission here. “We want the U.S. Army to take over this entire situation,” said Sarka Weah, among a group of men watching the naval unit bulldoze the field.
“Yes!” screamed the others.
The clinic will only hold 25 beds, and not for ordinary Liberians: just health workers. U.S. officials hope it will entice other countries to send their own nurses and doctors.
“It’s hard to know where all they’ll come from,” said Frank Mahoney, who heads the CDC’s Ebola response in Liberia.
This month, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) helped Liberia’s government convert an unused conference room in a telecommunications building into a war room. The U.S. aid agency had 12 tables wooden built, helped restore running water to the toilets and brought in filing cabinets from the U.S. Embassy, said people involved that effort.
Last Tuesday evening, James Dorbah Jallah, the national coordinator of Liberia’s Ebola Task Force, sat in the war room trying to get bottled water delivered to an Ebola clinic that had run out.
“It’s not possible,” said the supervisor of the government’s motor pool over speakerphone. “Everybody’s gone home.”
Copyright 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The Wall Street Journal. Visit the website at wsj .com
1. When did President Obama announce he was sending the U.S. military to help stop the spread of Ebola in Africa?
2. What did the President say other countries need to do?
3. Describe the steps the U.S. military is taking to help stop the spread of Ebola.
4. a) What is the CDC?
b) What might have happened to the disease if the U.S. had not sent aid, according to the CDC?
c) What concerns has the CDC expressed?
5. Why is so much international help needed?
6. What is the purpose of the first clinic the U.S. is building?
7. The U.S. has given hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Now 3,000 U.S. troops have been sent to build field hospitals and train medical workers….
a) What is the WHO?
b) What is the objective of the WHO?
c) If the member countries of the UN are also members of the WHO, why do you think the WHO hasn’t been able to organize an immediate world response to this epidemic, but the U.S. is taking the lead? What does this say to you about the effectiveness of the WHO? What does this say to you about American exceptionalism?
OPTIONAL: Watch the video under “Resources” below.
a) What do you think of the President’s order that U.S. troops build the hospitals, including clearing the area where they will be built? Is this the best way to stop the spread of Ebola?
b) What role do you think the Liberian people should take in trying to stop this epidemic?
Explain your answers.
The Ebola virus causes an acute, serious illness which is often fatal if untreated. Ebola virus disease (EVD) first appeared in 1976 in 2 simultaneous outbreaks, one in Nzara, Sudan, and the other in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter occurred in a village near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.
The current outbreak in west Africa, (first cases notified in March 2014), is the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976. There have been more cases and deaths in this outbreak than all others combined. It has also spread between countries starting in Guinea then spreading across land borders to Sierra Leone and Liberia, by air (1 traveller only) to Nigeria, and by land (1 traveller) to Senegal.
The most severely affected countries, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have very weak health systems, lacking human and infrastructural resources, having only recently emerged from long periods of conflict and instability. On August 8, the WHO Director-General declared this outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. (from: who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and health-related research.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the U.S.’s national public health institute. It is a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services.
- Its main goal is to protect public health and safety through the control and prevention of disease, injury, and disability.
- The CDC focuses national attention on developing and applying disease control and prevention.
- It especially focuses its attention on infectious disease, food borne pathogens, environmental health, occupational safety and health, health promotion, injury prevention and educational activities designed to improve the health of United States citizens.
- CDC’s 2014 budget is $11.3 billion.
- CDC’s Ebola webpage at: cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/index.html
The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that is concerned with international public health.
- Its current priorities include communicable diseases, in particular, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis; the mitigation of the effects of non-communicable diseases; sexual and reproductive health, development, and aging; nutrition, food security and healthy eating; occupational health; substance abuse; and drive the development of reporting, publications, and networking.
- When any sort of disaster or emergency occurs, it is WHO’s stated objective to reduce any consequences the event may have on world health and its social and economic implications.
- On August 8, 2014, WHO declared that the spread of Ebola is a public health emergency.
- WHO’s 2014 budget is $3.97 billion.
- WHO Ebola webpage: who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en
Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization that has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Samaritan’s Purse efforts to combat Ebola in Africa: samaritanspurse.org/article/fighting-ebola-in-west-africa
Daily “Answers” emails are provided for Daily News Articles, Tuesday’s World Events and Friday’s News Quiz.