Despite President Obama’s call for increased involvement of the U.S. military in the fight against the rapidly escalating Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the United States is hamstrung by a lack of military medical personnel with expertise dealing with the deadly virus, a top official in charge of coordinating the U.S. response said Tuesday.
“There isn’t an existing cadre of people who have experience in treating this epidemic other than” the aid group Doctors Without Borders, said Nancy Lindborg of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The Pentagon announced Monday that it would set up a 25-bed field hospital in Liberia to help provide medical care for health workers responding to the epidemic, prompting criticism from international aid groups and global health advocates who said the action was paltry compared with the need in the hardest-hit countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Lindborg said Tuesday that the hospital is intended to provide health care for foreign workers, not Liberians. The goal of the hospital is to “provide assurance that there will be quality health care available for health workers” who have or might volunteer to go to any of the affected countries, she said.
The World Health Organization has said the outbreak is “increasing exponentially” in Liberia. In Montserrado County alone — where the capital, Monrovia, is located — there is a need for 1,000 treatment beds; only 240 exist.