The United States is setting up a military command center to fight the "out of control" Ebola epidemic in West Africa, President Barack Obama said Tuesday. An Army major-general is already in place to direct a major U.S. push to build clinics, distribute supplies and train health care workers.
The White House says it’ll involve up to 3,000 troops and more than $500 million in spending.
"Hospitals, clinics and the few treatment centers that do exist are completely overwhelmed," Obama said while visiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "People are literally dying in the streets," he added. "It's spiraling out of control."
The World Health Organization says 5,000 people have been infected and half have died and says thousands more are doomed. "If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected," Obama said.
"Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to the United States and it is a responsibility we are prepared to embrace. We are prepared to take leadership on this," he added. "This is an epidemic that is not just a threat to regional security, it’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down and people panic."
“This massive ramp-up of support from the United States is precisely the kind of transformational change we need to get a grip on the outbreak and begin to turn it around,” said WHO director general Dr. Margaret Chan.
Obama said Major General Darryl Williams, commander of the U.S. Army Africa, had already landed in Liberia to lead the effort.
"We are going to establish a military command center in Liberia to support civilian efforts across the region," Obama said. It'll include an "air bridge" to speed supplies to the areas most in need.
And Obama asked for help.
"Today the United States is doing even more but this is a global threat and it has to have a global reponse," Obama said. "More nations need to contribute experienced personnel. They need to deliver what they plegde quickly." He said charities and philanthropies had already done much of the work and he said more would be needed.
As Obama spoke, the Senate appropriations and health committees were holding a joint hearing on the crisis. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander said the Ebola epidemic is as dangerous as Islamic extremists are. "We must take the deadly, dangerous threat of Ebola as seriously as we take ISIS," Alexander, a Republican, told a hearing on the epidemic. "This is an instance where we should be running toward the burning flames with our fireproof suits on."
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