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Global Partnership to Contain Ebola

October 6, 2014
Weekly Columns

Over the last several months, we have all kept a close watch over the alarming outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa. Primarily impacting the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, our concern is certainly shared with those who have lost loved ones to this disease. As Americans, our first inclination in the midst of suffering is to lend a helping hand and prevent a situation from growing from bad to worse.    

Ebola has claimed thousands of lives in West Africa. What started as a few remote cases has now impacted entire communities that do not have the resources to combat the disease. It is in the interest of the United States to partner with other countries to slow the spread of Ebola in West Africa and prevent it from being more widely spread around the globe. We are still learning what public health policies are in place to combat Ebola, and specifically how government-sponsored humanitarian aid can mitigate this disaster.

The Department of Defense has announced its plan to involve our military in building infrastructure to treat Ebola victims in West Africa. This would include the deployment of 1,500 military personnel to join 195 individuals already on the ground, followed by another 1,290 that could be deployed over the next couple months.

While I understand the need to assist, I believe that the Department of Defense must provide detailed plans for the operation, including how the bio-security of U.S. personnel and their families will be maintained. There must be interagency cooperation and contributions by other elements of the U.S. government and partner nations to ensure the U.S. military’s mission remains limited in duration. The Administration also must provide a detailed timeline and spending plan associated with its request for emergency funds. Finally, engaging all experts—at home and abroad—will be key to coordinating a response for containing disease outbreaks like Ebola.

Even though Ebola has primarily impacted those living in West Africa, we are all concerned about Ebola reaching our own shores and threatening the health of Americans, especially since someone was recently diagnosed with the disease in Dallas, Texas. The individual is not a U.S. citizen and had traveled into the United States from Liberia not long after he was exposed to a victim of the disease. While he wasn’t showing symptoms before traveling out of Liberia, he wasn’t honest in his paperwork about his exposure to Ebola and was allowed to travel to the United States. Because we cannot monitor or adequately screen individuals coming from the countries where the disease is prevalent, it is in the interest of our nation’s safety and security to temporarily discontinue travel into the United States of foreigners or flights originating from the affected countries until the outbreak is under control. I am certainly supportive of helping stabilize the serious situation in West Africa by sending humanitarian aid like medical supplies and health workers, but our ability to effectively bring it under control overseas is made more difficult when the disease could also threaten our own country.

Considering that Ebola is listed as a communicable disease for which foreigners are generally barred entry into the United States, it certainly causes one to question the protocols that have existed which allowed him to enter the country. But, perhaps more importantly, this case also illustrates how closely linked our country is to the rest of the world, especially through air travel. As a result, we must realize that isolation of a health issue is usually only temporary, invoking the need for a global partnership when providing humanitarian assistance. 

Fortunately, our nation is home to quality health professionals with the ability to face cases should they reach us. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continually updates its website with resources for both health professionals and the general public. While I have great confidence in the ability of our health professionals, I will continue to monitor the situation in the days ahead.