The international community has not done enough to halt the alarming spread of the Ebola virus disease throughout West Africa and must commit more resources to ending the current epidemic as well as preventing future biological threats, President Obama said Thursday at the United Nations.
“Right now, patients are being left to die in the streets because there's nowhere to put them and there’s nobody to help them,” the president said. “One health worker in Sierra Leone compared fighting this outbreak to ‘fighting a forest fire with spray bottles.’ But with our help, they can put out the blaze.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been 6,263 probable, confirmed and suspected Ebola cases in the current outbreak of the disease, as well as 2,917 deaths. Countries affected include Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. If trends continue, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone could reach 1.4 million within four months.
In the 38-year history of the Ebola virus, outbreaks have previously lasted for short periods of time. Medical experts fear that this time, however, the disease could become the new normal.
“This is more than a health crisis; this is a growing threat to regional and global security,” Obama said. “In Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, public health systems have collapsed. Economic growth is slowing dramatically. If this epidemic is not stopped, this disease could cause a humanitarian catastrophe across the region. In an era when regional crises can quickly become global threats, stopping Ebola is in the interests of all of us.”
Though the United States has led the international response, providing personnel, equipment and supplies to the region, and other countries and organization have “stepped up their efforts,” Obama said, it’s not enough.
“I want us to be clear -- we are not moving fast enough; we are not doing enough,” the president added. “There's still a significant gap between where we are and where we need to be.”
The president called on international organizations and world leaders to contribute more air transport, medical evacuations, health care workers, equipment, and treatment -- stressing the need to move quickly, if not perfectly. “Everybody’s got to move fast,” said Obama, “and if we do, we’ll save hundreds of thousands of lives.”
He also stressed that just because the United States has committed to a robust response doesn’t mean that other nations should feel the problem is being taken care of.
The U.S. has committed 3,000 American military personnel to help contain the outbreak.
“We cannot do this alone,” said the president. “We don’t have the capacity to do all of this ourselves.” Representatives from 44 nations will join Obama Thursday in Washington, D.C. for summit on global health security.
The president’s address coincided with two major developments in the U.S.’s involvement with the Ebola epidemic. On Thursday, Congress approved the use of leftover Afghanistan war money to fight the disease in West Africa. However, because of concerns from Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who complained of a lack of logistical details, only $50 million of Obama’s $1 billion request was approved for immediate use. The rest is set to be released after the Pentagon offers a detailed spending plan about the Ebola mission, according to the Associated Press.
The other major event was the release of Dr. Rick Sacra, the third American aid worker to be stricken with Ebola, from the Nebraska Medical Center. The 51-year-old contracted the disease while working at a hospital in Liberia.
“I would like to request a continued outpouring of prayer and practical help for the people of West Africa,” Sacra said Thursday at a press conference. “Though my crisis has reached a successful end here, unfortunately the Ebola crisis continues to burn out of control in West Africa.”