Ebola crisis: Yes, we need to help but is Obama ready to keep Americans safe?
America is silently acquiescing to President Obama’s extraordinarily expensive and flawed plan to fight Ebola in West Africa. On Tuesday, Obama announced he is committing $763 million dollars and 3,000 military personnel to taming the outbreak that so far has killed 2,400 people.
Though help is urgently needed there, the plan does too little to protect Americans.
Obama said nothing about temporarily banning commercial air travel between the U.S. and West Africa, in order to help prevent Ebola from coming here. Some 220,000 residents of West African countries have visas that permit them to enter the United States. As the disease increases exponentially, the likelihood also increases that a person carrying Ebola, perhaps unknowingly, travels to the United States before symptom’s appear. Northeastern University professor Allesandra Vespignanini and his research team have developed a computerized risk assessment based on travel patterns, and pegs the risk at no more than 15%.
Regardless of the small figure, the frightening truth is that most hospitals in the U.S. are unprepared for a patient unknowingly infected with Ebola. Hospitals that cannot stop the spread of MRSA, C. diff and VRE won’t be able to contain Ebola. Some seventy-five thousand patients die each year in U.S. hospitals from infections spread patient-to-patient, according to the CDC. The same lax hygiene that allows those deaths to occur would allow Ebola to race through hospitals as well.
On August 1, the CDC issued guidelines to U.S. hospitals on how to dispose of bodily fluids, soiled bed linens, and other contamination from an Ebola-infected patient. But one misstep could cost healthcare workers or other patients their lives.
The World Health Organization and West African political leaders have pleaded against a travel ban, saying it will cripple the economies of these stricken countries. But our president also has an obligation to protect us.
Here is where our President’s plan fails most. Less than one month ago, the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security released a shocking report showing that the stockpiles of medications, protective clothing, and other supplies needed to protect Americans in the event of a man-made or naturally caused disease outbreak were expired or near-expired, damaged, missing, or inappropriate. Where’s the attention to protecting Americans? The Inspector General flunked Homeland Security on all measures: planning, storage, and replenishment of the medical supplies that would be needed in a national emergency.
Congress, by the way, funded that pandemic preparedness program in 2006 for a mere $46 million-a tiny fraction of what Obama is sending to West Africa.
Then there is the danger of deploying the military to tame a disease outbreak. It’s true that the U. S. military has specially trained personnel to deal with weapons of mass destruction and to work wearing hazmat suits and other protective gear. But are those the only personnel who will be sent to the region? Among the troops’ responsibilities, according to Obama, will be safeguarding healthcare workers. Hundreds of healthcare workers already have contracted Ebola, and tragically more will, putting everyone around them at risk. It is reported that the Georgia-based Phoenix air service that evacuated two healthcare workers to Emory University in July would be used to evacuate any American personnel infected. But will they survive?
Too little is known about how the disease is currently spreading. Scientists are raising questions about whether the burning of Ebola-infected corpses at low temperatures could be allowing the virus to spread in the smoke. Sierra Leone began a three day lockdown on Friday, ordering people off the streets and into their homes in a frantic effort to stamp out the disease.
Infection isn’t the only risk. Eight members of a team, including healthcare workers, journalists, and government officials, sent to a remote Guinea village to raise Ebola awareness were hacked to death by villagers, who then dumped their bodies into a septic tank.
The military is also bearing the brunt of the cost. Most of the money for the president’s Ebola initiave, $500 million, is being shifted from Defense Department contingency operations, an important concern since the Defense Department has 21% fewer funds than before Obama became president and is facing the ISIS terror threat.
Despite these concerns, members of Congress from both parties are uncritically endorsing the president’s Ebola plan and pledging the additional funding the president has requested. It’s a heartwarming display of compassion and bipartisan cooperation, but it doesn’t address the tough questions about keeping Americans safe. The same members of Congress grilling the military about “boots on the ground” in Syria ought to be asking questions about what the military will be expected to do in West Africa.