This week, Pentagon officials announced the construction of a 25-bed field hospital in Liberia for healthcare workers affected by the Ebola virus.
The U.S. Agency for International Development requested the $22 million project, paid for by the Department of Defense (DoD)’s Overseas Humanitarian and Civic Aid Fund. Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said once DoD personnel set up the Monrovia-based facility, they will hand it over to Liberian health officials before leaving the country.
“No U.S. personnel right now are going to be providing patient care,” said Warren. “The intent of this piece of equipment is to provide a facility that healthcare workers in the affected region can use for themselves if they become ill or injured. We are deploying the hospital facility, setting it up, and stockpiling it. We’ll turn it over to the government of Liberia and then the DoD personnel will depart.”
This recent news disappointed many people on the ground who have reported a significant shortage of beds for Liberians admitted to Ebola Treatment Units. Since the first Ebola case appeared in March, 14 out of 15 Liberian counties have reported infections. Right now, one doctor exists for 100,000 people in the county with a population of more than 4 million.
“We don’t need 25 beds. We need 1,000 beds, yesterday,” Sophie Delaunay, executive director of Doctors Without Borders, told Buzzfeed. “If this is the only offer that is going to be practically implemented on the ground, it’s paltry in the face of all the needs.”
These recent developments come amid reports that House Republicans will likely provide $40 million — less than half of the White House’s $88 million funding request — to fight Ebola in the 2015 government spending bill. Sources said this amount includes $25 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and $15 million for the Biological Advanced Research and Development Authority for production of an experimental Ebola drug.
So far, the U.S. government has spent $100 million in the fight against Ebola. It seems, however, that Americans’ efforts along with that of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international key players have done little to contain the disease. Within the last three weeks, Liberia has experienced a 68 percent increase in Ebola cases. The number of infections across West Africa — in countries that include Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria — stands at more than 4,000, according to WHO. As of publication time, more than 2,000 people have died.
While officials contend that no official treatment exists, four Americans infected in parts of West Africa have received experimental Ebola vaccinations within the last month. Upon their arrival back to the states in military planes, two stayed in Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and the third remains in stable condition in a Nebraska hospital.
The most recent aid worker to be transported back to the U.S. will go to Emory University Hospital’s isolation unit. WHO officials also said one its American health workers will be flown back to the states to be treated for the virus.
Back in Liberia, conventional methods of containment against Ebola still haven’t worked, in part because many locals haven’t heeded warnings to stay inside. Reports out of the small West African nation recount instances when people spread the disease when taking family members to the hospital on their motorbikes. Earlier this month, American Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Bradley said that healthcare workers may find more success in providing home care rather than isolating people.
Whatever method healthcare workers decide to take against Ebola, the fact remains that the disease currently has a stronghold on Liberia, which already suffers from a weak infrastructure. During a meeting with the United Nations Security Council earlier this week, Liberian Minister of National Defense Brownie Samukai criticized what he considered as the lax international response to the virus before giving a grave warning to the 15-member council.
“Liberia is facing a serious threat to its national existence,” said Samukai. “The deadly Ebola virus has caused a disruption of the normal functioning of our state. It is now spreading like wild fire, devouring everything in its path. The already weak health infrastructure of the country has been overwhelmed.”
Pentagon officials have yet to describe what additional assistance the U.S. military will provide, if any. While President Obama said the U.S. would help combat Ebola on last Sunday’s episode of “Meet the Press,” he framed the issue as a matter of preventing the spread of the disease to the West rather than helping the African nations already under siege.
“If we don’t make that effort now, and this spreads not just through Africa but other parts of the world,” Obama said. “There’s the prospect then that the virus mutates, it becomes more easily transmittable.”
The Hill reported on Thursday that House Republicans earmarked the $88 million that the White House requested for its efforts to combat Ebola.