As members of the U.S. Congress and Obama administration officials prepared Nov. 12 to discuss whether to allocate $6.18 billion to fight Ebola — the first of at least two public hearings focused on the outbreak on Capitol Hill — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden stressed that to stop the epidemic, the international development community needs to work with a speed and scale never before seen in public health.
In October alone, he pointed out, there were more cases of Ebola in West Africa, than in all of recorded Ebola history combined.
“So we have a long way to go,” he said.
Frieden added that in Liberia, as of early November, there was essentially one new cluster of infections per day, and often in very rural and remote parts of the country.
On top of this, the CDC is acting swiftly to prevent a potential new Ebola outbreak in Mali, a country as yet largely unaffected by the epidemic. Frieden said that a 2-year-old child infected with Ebola entered the country, putting more than 100 contacts at risk, and most recently a religious leader died from what appears to have been Ebola after receiving care at several different places within Mali.
“We now have a very complex investigation,” said Frieden. “The response there is going to need to be very intensive.”
Frieden’s sobering brief came at a time when the health care community is still desperate for trained health care workers to volunteer abroad and the U.S. government is taking broad measures to better protect and support health personnel fighting the virus at its source.
The U.S. Department of Defense on Sunday opened a 25-bed hospital in Monrovia designed specifically to treat international and local Ebola responders infected with the virus and is committed to supplying it for the next six months.
"This has been a very important piece of the response so that first responder health care workers have the confidence that they can get the treatment they need should they be exposed," Anne Witkowsky, deputy assistant defense secretary for stability and humanitarian affairs, said Nov. 12.
Earlier this week, the British military set up a similar hospital for health workers in Sierra Leone, according to Donald Lu, deputy coordinator for Ebola response at State Department.
Lu also noted that the department will continue to provide evacuation service for infected foreign health care workers on a “cost re-reimbursable basis,” with a specially designed aircraft capable of transporting infected health workers from West Africa to equipped hospitals in Europe and the United States.
“If you could improve PPE quality, if you could make it wearable for two or three hours at a stretch, rather than an hour at a stretch for example, you would massively reduce the amount of it that we’d need to use and you would significantly improve the quality of care,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, director of USAID’s Office of Disaster Assistance. “We are soliciting proposals and ideas and brainstorms from a very wide range of different companies and partners.”
If anyone has a good idea, he noted, “we’re taking a look at that,” although Konyndyk admitted “we don’t yet have the final outcome of what we’re going to work with.”
As for as a vaccine against Ebola, Frieden said the CDC hopes to begin trials “in the next month or so with one or two promising candidates,” and that the U.S. government is working intensively on new diagnostic methods as well that could make significant impact.
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Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.
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