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US to assign 3,000 troops to fight Ebola

By Agencies in Washington and Geneva | China Daily | Updated: 2014-09-17 07:06

UN warns cases could double every 3 weeks; charity is 'overwhelmed'

The United States announced on Tuesday that it would send 3,000 troops to help tackle the Ebola outbreak as part of a ramped-up response, including a major deployment in Liberia, the country where the epidemic is most rapidly spiraling out of control.

The US response to the crisis, to be formally unveiled by US President Barack Obama, includes plans to build 17 treatment centers, train thousands of healthcare workers and establish a military control center for coordination, US officials told reporters.

"The goal here is to search American expertise, including our military, logistics and command and control expertise, to try and control this outbreak at its source in West Africa," Lisa Monaco, Obama's White House counterterrorism adviser, said on Tuesday ahead of the announcement.

The World Health Organization has said it needs foreign medical teams with 500-600 experts and at least 10,000 local health workers - numbers that may rise if cases increase as they are widely expected to do.

So far Cuba and China have said they will send medical staff to Sierra Leone. But Liberia is where the disease appears to be running amok.

The WHO has not issued any estimate of cases or deaths in the country since Sept 5 and its director-general, Margaret Chan, has said there was not a single bed available for Ebola patients there.

Liberia, a nation founded by descendants of freed American slaves, appealed for US help last week.

The UN health agency warned that the number of Ebola cases in West Africa could double every three weeks.

Treatment centers

The Ebola response in Liberia will focus on community-level care units since new treatment centers are unlikely to be ready for weeks or months, WHO Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward said on Tuesday.

"The absolute first priority is to establish enough capacity to rapidly isolate the cases so that they are not infecting others. We need Ebola treatment centers to do that, very, very quickly, but they take time to build, as you've seen," he said.

"It takes weeks, if not months, to get these facilities up and running. We have firm commitments for more than 500 additional beds in Liberia and we think we will hear announcements that will take that even further over the coming weeks."

Medecins Sans Frontieres, the charity that has been leading the fight against Ebola, said it was overwhelmed and repeated its call for an immediate and massive deployment.

"The window of opportunity to contain this outbreak is closing. We need more countries to stand up. We need greater deployment, and we need it now," MSF's international president, Joanne Liu, said.

"Highly infectious people are forced to return home, only to infect others and continue the spread of this deadly virus. All for a lack of international response," she said.

Obama, who has called the epidemic a national security crisis, has faced criticism for not doing more to stem the outbreak. The WHO said last week Ebola had killed more than 2,400 people out of 4,784 cases in West Africa.

US officials stressed it was very unlikely the Ebola crisis could come to the US. Measures were being taken to screen passengers flying out of the region, they said, and protocols were in place to isolate and treat anyone who arrived in the United States showing symptoms of the disease.

Reuters - AFP - AP

(China Daily 09/17/2014 page12)

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