The wrong way to help fight Ebola
President Obama told the United Nations on Thursday that “we are not moving fast enough” to curb the Ebola outbreak engulfing Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
But Sen. Jim Inhofe (R. Oklahoma) is saying “not so fast” to the president’s request for $1 billion and 3,000 military personnel to fight Ebola.
Inhofe is right to demand answers about how the money and soldiers will be used. To the extent Obama even has a plan, it’s a bad one.
When Obama announced his battle against Ebola at the Centers for Disease Control last week, most members of Congress rushed to support him in a glow of compassionate bipartisanship.
But Obama needs permission from Congress to reallocate the $1 billion from funds originally allocated for “contingency operations” in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.
And Inhofe, as the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is in a position to demand specifics. So far, the White House and Pentagon have produced few.
Inhofe is right to be wary, and Congress should give Obama’s “plan” closer scrutiny.
Obama is putting the money and manpower into one African country, Liberia. Why only Liberia?
Well, his fellow Nobel Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the president of Liberia, and she seems to have him on speed dial.
But our tax dollars would save more African lives if the money went to equip the nations in Ebola’s future path with health expertise and laboratories, gloves and other equipment before the disease hits them.
And it will hit. Migrating fruit bats common to the region are predicted to carry this latest strain to 15 or more African countries. A Sept. 17 World Bank report sounds the alarm about a “broader regional contagion.”
Preparing these nations will take time. World Health Organization doctors are urgingmore “forceful implementation” of infection controls, including stopping travel between countries, dangerous funeral practices and the eating of bats.
Had these changes been in place when Ebola first struck Guinea, the current epidemic probably would not have occurred.
It began there last December, when a 2-year-old caught the infection, it is believed, from a bat. But it crossed borders in May, when mourners from Sierra Leone and Liberia brought the disease home from the funerals of Ebola victims in Guinea.
By contrast, when a 12-year-old girl from a Ugandan village contracted Ebola in May 2011, the country’s public-health officials were ready, having been prepared by the CDC and equipped with a laboratory.
All the infected girl’s contacts were tested, and when she died, her family was warned to bury her without opening the coffin or touching her body. Not one other case occurred.
That example shows how the United States can get ahead of the disease and contain it by preparing other nations. To contain a forest fire, don’t aim all the hoses at the trees already half burned. Drench the surrounding ones before they catch fire.
In this case, many scientists are saying, focus on containment.
But Obama wants to build 1,700 hospital beds in Liberia — enough for what the CDC predicts will be one day’s new infections by December.
He also says the military will train 500 health-care workers a week there. Where will they come from? Local health-care workers have died from Ebola or fled the danger, and groups like Doctors Without Borders report extreme difficulty recruiting volunteers.
So how will Obama’s $1 billion boondoggle save lives in Liberia?
US military lives will certainly be at risk, and Inhofe is right to insist on answers. Even hazmat suits may not protect soldiers from the violence they will encounter, because of local suspicions and fears.
Last week, eight members of an aid team, including health-care workers, journalists and government officials, sent to a remote Guinea village were hacked to death and thrown into a latrine.
On Tuesday, Red Cross workers helping to bury the dead were attacked by family members of the deceased.
Pouring $1 billion into Liberia under these circumstances — instead of planning ahead to save thousands of African lives in nearby countries — may be well-intentioned, but it’s a mistake.