President Barack Obama will announce a major surge in U.S. aid to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa later on Tuesday, with as many as 3,000 military personnel to help organize, train new health care workers and build treatment clinics.
The Department of Defense will divert $500 million for the effort, which will include building 17 new treatment centers with 100 beds each, 10,000 sets of personal protective equipment and the distribution of supplies such as disinfectant and hand sanitizer to help 400,000 families protect themselves and care for sick family members.
"The Ebola epidemic in West Africa and the humanitarian crisis there is a top national security priority for the United States," the White House said in a statement. Obama will announce details when he visits the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Senior administration officials, who asked not to be identified because they don't want to upstage the president, said they believe the surge will start to turn the epidemic around. The World Health Organization (WHO), local leaders and aid groups in West African have all said the epidemic is raging out of control. WHO's latest count has 4,784 people infected, and 2,400 of them dead, but experts all say that's an underestimate as many cases almost certainly have gone uncounted.
WHO says as many as 20,000 could be infected in the coming months. One senior administration official said it could spike to hundreds of thousands.
The ramp-up should create a "backbone" that will give other countries the confidence to send in supplies and money to help, the officials said. There will be a U.S. general coordinating command and control efforts, but the officials said everything will be coordinated with international groups such as WHO and with local governments. They declined to say it amounted to a U.S. takeover of the aid effort.
The U.S. Africa Command will train as many as 500 new healthcare workers a week for six months and longer if needed. WHO and aid groups such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) have said medical staff are by far the greatest need.
"U.S. Africa Command will establish a regional intermediate staging base to facilitate and expedite the transportation of equipment, supplies and personnel," the White House said in a statement. "Just as the outbreak has worsened, our response will be commensurate with the challenge."