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September 17, 2014

U.S. will ramp up efforts to fight Ebola


President Obama announced the U.S. will scale its efforts to combat the Ebola virus in West Africa, which has spread exponentially throughout the region in recent months.

The U.S. will send 3,000 troops to affected areas and build 17 new treatment centers with 100 beds each, as well as establish a facility that will train up to 500 health workers each week. U.S. officers will also help staff a hospital that treats health workers as well as distribute home health kits.

The current outbreak began when the virus appeared in Guinea in March. It quickly spread to five West African countries, infecting over 5,000 people and killing more than 2,500.

A swift and large international response is required to stop the spread of the virus, according to Dr. Beth Bell, an official from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There is a window of opportunity to control the spread of this disease, but that window is closing,” Bell said.

The World Health Organization estimates that the number of cases will double every 3 weeks and that containing the outbreak will require nearly $1 billion in funds.

It could be challenging for the U.S. to implement aid quickly in the affected countries, which have relatively weak health infrastructures, according to Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

And there is no central command giving directions to international organizations, making it difficult to determine who receives aid first, according to Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations

“Where do we need to deploy people first? We don’t have that kind of operation in place,” she said.

Garrett compared Ebola’s potential impact on Africa to the effect of the Black Death on Italy in the 14th century.

Though the number of cases is growing, the virus has been effectively contained so far in Nigeria, the most populous country to confirm Ebola cases. Only 21 cases of Ebola have appeared in Nigeria since the first case was reported in July.

Warm up questions
  1. Where is West Africa and what are some of the countries that are located in that region?
  2. What is the Center for Disease Control (CDC)?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What has President Obama pledged to do in order to help contain the outbreak?
  2. What are the risks and benefits for the United States to be involved in the efforts to contain the virus?
  3. What do you see as the biggest challenges to carrying out this public health operation?
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