US President Barack Obama will try to “turn the tide” on the Ebola epidemic by ordering 3,000 US military personnel to west Africa to curtail its spread as China also dispatched more experts to the region.
The White House said Obama will Tuesday travel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta—where US Ebola victims were treated—to make the announcement, meant to spur a global effort to tackle the outbreak that has already killed 2,400 people.
It comes as alarm grows that the worst-ever Ebola epidemic which spread through Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea before reaching Nigeria, is out of control. A separate strain of the disease has appeared in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Most of the US effort, which will draw heavily on its military medical corps, will be concentrated in impoverished Liberia—the worst hit nation—with plans to build 17 Ebola treatment centres with 100 beds in each.
China, Cuba add more
China meanwhile will send 59 more medics to Ebola-hit Sierra Leone to help boost laboratory testing for the virus, raising the total number of Chinese medical experts there to 174, the UN said Tuesday.
Last Friday Cuba upped the stakes, pledging to deploy a 165-strong army of doctors and nurses to help fight the West Africa Ebola outbreak in the latest example of the country’s decades-old tradition of “medical diplomacy.”
Since 1960, when Cuba dispatched a team of doctors to help with the aftermath of an earthquake in Chile, the Caribbean island has sent more than 135,000 medical staff to all corners of the globe.
The latest batch being sent to help in west Africa’s Ebola crisis are part of a 50,000-strong foreign legion of Cuban doctors and healthcare workers spread across 66 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa, according to Cuba’s Health Ministry.
Cuban Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda told reporters in Geneva on Friday some 62 doctors and 103 nurses were being sent to Sierra Leone to tackle the outbreak.
WHO’s Chan welcomed the Cuban aid, the largest offer of a foreign medical team from a single country during the outbreak.
Obama will announce that US Africa Command will set up a headquarters in the Sierra Leone capital Monrovia to act as a command and control centre for US military and international relief programmes.
But the main element of the push is a six-month training and hygiene drive to tackle the disease head-on.
US advisors will train up to 500 Liberian health care providers per week in how to safely handle and treat victims and their families in a bid to shore up the country’s overwhelmed health infrastructure.
Washington will also send 65 experts from the public health service corps to Liberia to manage and staff a previously announced US military hospital to care for health workers who become sick with Ebola.
More than 100 workers from Centers for Disease Control are already at work in west Africa, and many more staff are coordinating their work at the agency’s Atlanta headquarters.
Cuba’s intervention, on the other, is also the biggest from a relatively poor Third World country. It is significant that its economy is only fraction of bigger African economies like Nigeria and South Africa.
However, despite the thousands of health workers abroad, Cuba’s domestic healthcare remains one of the best staffed networks in the world, with 82,065 doctors, one for every 137 people, according to the National Statistics Office.
It is probably Cuba role, more than the USA’s or China’s, that should most help make the point to many African countries that they can have a much better health care system better suited to deal with epidemics like Ebola.