By Erik Ruiz
In a video conference on Tuesday, October 14, with leaders from 21 countries, President Obama stressed that the international community was not doing enough to combat the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
“As I’ve said before, and I’m going to keep on repeating until we start seeing more progress, the world as a whole is not doing enough…. There are a number of countries that have capacity that have not yet stepped up.” – President Obama
That same day, the World Health Organization warned that we could start seeing as many as 10,000 new cases of Ebola per month. Although WHO’s official tally puts the death toll at 4,447 out of 8,914 reported cases, Dr. Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general of WHO, suggested that there may be more deaths that have not been officially recorded.
NBC News has reported that the United States already has 565 military personnel in the region in order to help combat and contain the spread of the virus. Over 4,000 military personnel are expected to deploy to West Africa and set up more mobile labs to test and treat patients suspected of having Ebola. The operation will cost an estimated $750 million throughout the first six months according to AFRICOM commander General David Rodriguez.
As we have noted in a previous blog post, Ebola and other dangerous viruses and diseases are serious national security threats. These epidemics have the capability to destabilize already fragile regions and can have unforeseen effects on our security. Therefore, not only is acting on this a moral imperative (and also one based on practical foreign policy and security considerations), that the West, and really any country that is willing and able to assist, do all it can to help countries like Liberia contain the spread of Ebola, eradicate it, and more importantly for the long term assist them in developing their almost non-existent medical infrastructure so that the next time an outbreak happens those countries will be better prepared to deal with the situation before it spirals out of control.
As of today there is already a second case of infection in the United States, another nurse who treated Thomas Eric Duncan (who unfortunately died after attempts to treat him). This poses serious questions about our own capability to respond to these outbreaks. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has received a lot of flak (a lot of it justified, some of it partisan attacks from Republicans) for their response to these infections. The President has already announced a “rapid response Swat team” of sorts from the CDC in order to respond to infections within 24 hours. More must be done in order to train hospital staff country wide on proper protocol and response. As this crisis widens President Obama is correctly taking it very seriously (he canceled a trip to a West Coast fundraiser in order to stay focused on the issue) and calling for the world to do more. A question remains though: will other governments answer the call and do their fair share to help?
Erik Ruiz is the National Security Intern at the Center for International Policy.