President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $6 billion to fight Ebola both in the United States and in West Africa, administration officials said Wednesday.
If he got the money, it would be an overwhelming boost to the U.S. efforts to fight the virus, which has infected at least 13,000 people and which is killing 70 percent of them.
Obama is asking the lame-duck Congress to approve the funding. Republicans took the Senate in Tuesday’s elections and strengthened their hold on the House, but lawmakers have just under two months to take action before the new legislators are sworn in.
House Speaker John Boehner said the appropriations committee would review the request.
The U.S. is keen to be seen as leading the international response to Ebola.
"In West Africa, we have deployed nearly 2,000 personnel from multiple U.S. departments and agencies, including the Departments of State and Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Department of Defense. We are leading a global coalition of countries to address this global challenge, just as we work hand-in-hand with the affected governments, the United Nations, and others,” one official told NBC News.
“It’s an incentive for health care workers to go work in an Ebola treatment unit, knowing that if they get sick, they’ll be taken care of."
In the first major demonstration of this effort, a new clinic will open Saturday in Liberia’s capital of Monrovia. The Monrovia Medical Unit has 25 beds reserved for medical workers infected while caring for Ebola patients. “It’s an incentive for health care workers to go work in an Ebola treatment unit, knowing that if they get sick, they’ll be taken care of,” said Lt. Shane Deckert, the facility engineer for the unit.
Health care workers such as doctors and nurses are at especially high risk of infection, because they’re in close, sustained contact with Ebola patients who are at their sickest. The World Health Organization says 546 have been infected with Ebola and 310 of them have died.
"My foremost priority is to protect the health and safety of Americans, and this request supports all necessary steps to fortify our domestic health system and prevent any outbreaks at home," Obama wrote in his letter requesting the $6.18 billion.
"Over the longer term, my Administration recognizes that the best way to prevent additional cases at home will be to contain and eliminate the epidemic at its source in Africa."
The request includes $4.5 billion for immediate response and $1.5 billion for a contingency fund.
"Specifically, the request includes resources for domestic hospital and State and local preparedness; resources to support training as well as the acquisition of appropriate protective equipment; medical and non-medical management of Ebola treatment units and community care centers; infection control; contact tracing; laboratory capacity; disease surveillance; emergency operation centers; education and outreach; burial teams; addressing food insecurity and other adverse impacts of the outbreak in affected areas; and testing and development of new vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics," Obama wrote.
"These activities are critical to combat the spread of Ebola and reduce the potential for future outbreaks of infectious diseases," an official added.
HHS would get more than $4 billion, including $1.8 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to set up 50 Ebola treatment centers in the U.S. and buy personal protective equipment, monitor travelers from West Africa and to send experts to help in affected countries.
The National Institutes of Health would get $238 million to work on drugs and vaccines,while the Food and Drug Administration would get $25 million to help it speed up the approval process.
USAID would get $1.98 billion to scale up West African efforts, including the construction of new clinics, distributing food and distributing supplies. The State Department would get $127 million to help expand capacity to evacuate patients.
"The Administration is requesting $1.54 billion for a Contingency Fund, with $751 million for HHS and $792 million for USAID and the Department of State," the White House added in a statement.
"If necessary, the Contingency Fund could support increased domestic efforts, such as expanded monitoring; a limited vaccination campaign that could target health care workers treating infected patients (if a vaccine is proven safe and effective); an expanded response in Guinea, Sierra Leone or other countries if the virus spreads; and, enhanced global health security efforts. As the rapidly evolving and unpredictable outbreak progresses, it is necessary to have maximum flexibility to respond quickly. "
Obama has authorized the Pentagon to send up to 4,000 servicemen and women to West Africa to build Ebola treatment units, train health care workers and help coordinate the aid response.
WHO said Wednesday that the epidemic appeared to be stabilizing in Guinea, but worsening in Sierra Leone. Cases in Liberia appear to be declining.