WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama declared Tuesday that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa could threaten security around the world, and he ordered 3,000 U.S. military personnel to the region in emergency aid muscle for a crisis spiraling out of control.
The question was whether the aid would be enough and was coming in time. An ominous World Health Organization forecast said that with so many people now spreading the virus, the number of Ebola cases could start doubling every three weeks.
“If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people affected, with profound economic, political and security implications for all of us,” Obama said Tuesday after briefings in Atlanta with doctors and officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University.
Obama called on other countries to join in quickly supplying more health workers, equipment and money. By day’s end the administration asked Congress to shift another $500 million in Pentagon money to the effort, meaning the U.S. could end up devoting $1 billion to contain the outbreak.
“It’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down,” Obama said, speaking of the hardest-hit nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. At least 2,400 people have died, with Liberia bearing the brunt. Nearly 5,000 people have fallen ill in those countries and Nigeria and Senegal since the disease was first recognized in March. WHO says it anticipates the figure could rise to more than 20,000, and the disease could end up costing nearly $1 billion to contain.
Obama described the task ahead as “daunting” but said there was hope in the fact that “the world knows how to fight this disease.”
His expression grim, he described the “gut-wrenching” scene of a family in Liberia. The father had died, the mother was cradling a sick 5-year old, her 10-year-old was dying, too, and the family had reached a treatment center but couldn’t get in.
“These men and women and children are just sitting, waiting to die, right now.” Obama said. “And it doesn’t have to be this way.”
The U.S. is promising to deliver 17 hundred-bed treatment centers to Liberia, where contagious patients often sit in the streets, turned away from packed Ebola units. The Pentagon expects to have the first treatment units open within a few weeks, part of the heightened U.S. response that also includes training more local health care workers.