The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations landed in Guinea early Sunday on the first leg of her trip to Ebola-stricken West Africa, a high-profile visit aimed at drumming up more international support for combating the deadly virus.
Ambassador Samantha Power's trip comes after New York instituted new quarantine policies for health workers returning to the U.S. following news a doctor in New York who treated Ebola patients in Guinea had tested positive for the virus. NBC News is traveling exclusively with the ambassador on her trip to West Africa.
Power expressed concern that the new quarantine policies were “haphazard and not well thought out," telling NBC News as she boarded her flight to Guinea that there is a chance the new regulations could set back the fight against the virus in hard-hit places.
“We cannot take measures here that are going to impact our ability to flood the zone” with health workers, Powers said. “We have to find the right balance between addressing the legitimate fears that people have and encouraging and incentivizing these heroes.”
It was not immediately clear if Power will be quarantined upon her return to the U.S., but the ambassador told NBC News that being able to send health workers to affected countries and bring them home safely is “a very important part of the solution” to ending the crisis.
Power repeatedly praised health workers as “heroes” and said “many more” are needed to put an end to the outbreak.
“The American people as a whole and the U.S. government, all of us need to make clear what these health workers mean to us and how much we value their service,” she said when asked if the quarantine policies were an overreaction. “We need to find a way when they come home that they are treated like conquering heroes and not stigmatized for the tremendous work that they've done.
The ambassador said her visit to Guinea itself sends a powerful message to the American public, which has been gripped by fears about an Ebola outbreak on U.S. soil since the death of a man from Ebola in Texas and subsequent diagnoses of nurses who treated him.
“It will be showing in the mere fact of going as a member of the president's cabinet that we shouldn't be afraid,” she said, noting that even her 5-year-old son is "obsessed" with what he calls "Bola".
“We need to take trips like this, we need to be part of the solution and not run away from something, 'cause it'll come to us if we don't deal with it at its source.”
In addition to Guinea, Power will visit Sierra Leone and Liberia - the three countries hardest hit by the outbreak of the deadly virus - before heading to Brussels.
Power told NBC News that she wants to identify what can be done differently on the ground by the U.N. or U.S. and bring those insights with her to Brussels and beyond in order to mobilize the commitment of more resources to fight Ebola.
“The international response to Ebola needs to be taken to a wholly different scale than it is right now,” Powers told NBC News as she boarded her plane to Guinea. “You have countries at the United Nations where I work every day who are signing on to resolutions and praising the good work that the United States and the United Kingdom and others are doing, but they themselves haven't taken the responsibility yet to send docs, to send beds, to send the reasonable amount of money.”
Power is expected to visit Ebola coordination centers, meet with senior local officials and with U.S. and U.N. personnel on the ground.
- Cassandra Vinograd contributed to this report.