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U.S. offers support to fragile, West African health systems to combat Ebola

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In West Africa, doctors are fighting the world's most deadly Ebola outbreak with makeshift hospitals, a handful of vehicles and a few brave volunteer health workers. Meanwhile, terrified villagers and city-dwellers alike can only watch helplessly as their loved ones succumb to the disease.

    Tonight's episode of "Frontline" on PBS takes an intimate and harrowing look at all this on the ground in Sierra Leone. In the following scene, "Frontline" cameras travel with a group of health workers who go to remote villages, searching for Ebola's victims.

  • NARRATOR:

    They're heading to a village where Ebola has already killed an old man. Everyone they encounter, even those who look healthy, could be infectious.

    The team used to wear protective clothing, but the suits terrified the villagers, who ran, hid and sometimes even attacked them. Manjo now relies on keeping his distance from everyone he meets.

  • MANJO:

    My name is Manjo, and this is Ishata (ph) from the World Health Organization.

  • NARRATOR:

    A young woman is clearly unwell.

  • MANJO:

    What's wrong with you?

  • NARRATOR:

    Kadiatu Jusu (ph) is 25 years old, the mother of four children.

  • WOMAN:

    Do you have a fever?

  • WOMAN:

    Yes, I have temperature, diarrhea and I'm vomiting.

  • NARRATOR:

    Her husband, Fallah (ph), is a farmer. He's 35. It was his father who died two weeks ago. Ishata Conteh (ph) can see Kadiatu is almost certainly infected.

  • WOMAN:

    She actually fits into the case definition, because she was the one taking care of the old man, feeding him, cleaning where the old man was vomiting, and there was direct physical contact.

  • MANJO:

    I'm going to spray this area.

  • NARRATOR:

    Manjo disinfects Kadiatu's home with chlorine. Everything she touched could have been contaminated. Ishata notes the names of everyone who's been in close contact with Kadiatu. Her children and husband are at the top of the list.

  • WOMAN:

    Seventeen. All these 17 people here. If anyone gets a fever or the cough or feels like they have malaria or pain all over their body or is vomiting or going to the toilet a lot, any of those symptoms, you must call us. They are all at risk. We need to monitor them for the next 21 days.

  • WOMAN:

    She, too, is going with the same thing.

  • NARRATOR:

    Fallah can't risk touching his wife to say goodbye.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And that's from a "Frontline" episode airing tonight.

    As we reported earlier, the number of Ebola deaths in this latest outbreak now tops 2,300.

    To find out what the U.S. is doing to combat the deadly epidemic, I'm joined by Nancy Lindborg. She's assistant administrator at the United States Agency for International Development, which has been heading up the government's response to this growing crisis.

    Nancy Lindborg, thank you for joining us.

    Again, how typical would you say that scene is that we just watched?

    NANCY LINDBORG, U.S. Agency for International Development: I think that scene was, unfortunately, very typical, and what we're seeing is an unprecedented outbreak that is occurring across West Africa, but particularly focused in countries that are only recently emerging from decades of civil war.

    So they had very fragile health systems to begin with. And they also have practices that are enhancing the spread. You heard about the burial practices that involve touching the dead. So we are working on a strategy across the U.S. government that involves USAID, Centers for Disease Control, and DOD, State Department to work with the global community and countries on the ground to help stop the transmission, to expand treatment, and to stand up greater capacity at the local level to do exactly what you saw, be able to address this.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It's clear that this is an epidemic that is much worse than was thought just a few — a matter of certainly a few months ago, even a few weeks ago.

    What is the U.S. responsibility in all this? At this point, there is not an Ebola patient in the U.S., except those who have been transported to the U.S. from West Africa. But what is the U.S. responsibility in this?

  • NANCY LINDBORG:

    Our responsibility as a global leader is to do what we can to contribute to that stopping of the transmission and the provision of the treatment and helping these countries stand up better systems.

    We're working closely with the global community, and this is really going to take an all-hands-on-deck kind of approach. We just announced this morning a $10 million contribution to the African Union as they mobilize a continent response. They have mobilized 100 health workers who are going in and will provide the logistical support for them to be successful.

    This will — we know what it takes to stop this. We also know that it will take significant ramping up by all the various partners, and it will probably take several months to get this under control.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Ten million dollars, is that enough at this point? Is that just a drop in the bucket? I mean, how do you compare that to the challenge out there?

  • NANCY LINDBORG:

    That's — that was just to support the African Union mobilization.

    USAID has committed about $100 million. We have got additional commitments from the Department of Defense. They're bring in diagnostic labs, a field hospital. We're bringing in almost a daily airlift of supplies, the protective personal gear that you saw people wearing, the backpack sprayers, household kits, so that households have what they need to take care of loved ones and keep themselves safe, food, a whole variety of supplies.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What — is the U.S. able to understand and to — I mean, is — do you now have a list somewhere that says, OK, here are all the things that are needed, and we're going to provide these things, or are you still figuring this out as you go along?

  • NANCY LINDBORG:

    We have a very clear strategy that we're pursuing, in coordination with the World Health Organization, with the local countries and their health systems and with our partners, the Europeans and the African Union.

    There is — it's stop the transmission, expand the treatments, and set up local systems, and also help the home health care strategy, so that people are not continuing to handle the dead the way that they do and to — and practice the kind of daily health practices that can change forever the way this is transmitted.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But that means getting more people on the ground to spread the word, doesn't it?

  • NANCY LINDBORG:

    Absolutely. Absolutely.

    Well, both to spread the word and to help with the setting up of the treatment facilities.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And as you — as you — at this point, is this a matter of resources, or is it a matter of time, people? What is it that's needed the most to bring this raging epidemic under control?

  • NANCY LINDBORG:

    It's really all of the above.

    It's surging in the supplies. It's surging in the people who are trained to have the very rigorous protocols required to provide the treatment. It's activating all the ways that we can provide the information to people in the communities. We are — we have surged about 100 people into the region of USAID.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Americans?

  • NANCY LINDBORG:

    Of American, USAID, CDC, Department — the DOD, all parts of the U.S. government on the ground to get us moving ahead and further identify how to plug in, how to activate a coordination system on the ground.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How much are you concerned? What are the odds, the chances that Ebola could spread to the United States?

  • NANCY LINDBORG:

    You know, part of what we have done is brought in a lot of those thermometers that you saw the health workers using, and set up the kind of screening that is done at the airports, so that there's that additional control.

    There's — we always want to be concerned about global epidemics, but this — this is controllable and this is — what we have seen is, as it's spread to places like Senegal, that they have the systems to do the tracing, the treatment, and they're able to keep it from spreading.

    Ultimately, there needs to be strengthening of the health systems, so that when these kinds of cases appear, there can be the kind of immediate response that keeps it from becoming the kind of really terrible outbreak that we're seeing right now.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    An enormous task.

    Nancy Lindborg with the U.S. Agency for International Development, we thank you.

  • NANCY LINDBORG:

    Thank you.

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