Boots On The Ground … For Ebola

Today, president Obama is announcing a major effort to help stem the spread of the outbreak in West Africa, relying primarily on our African military command:

The unprecedented response will include the deployment of 3,000 U.S. military forces and more than $500 million in defense spending drawn from funding normally used for efforts like the war in Afghanistan, senior administration officials outlined Monday. Obama has called America’s response to the disease a “national-security priority,” with top foreign policy and defense officials leading the government’s efforts.

The officials said Obama believes that in order to best contain the disease, the U.S. must “lead” the global response effort. In the CDC’s largest deployment in response to an epidemic, more than 100 officials from the agency are currently on the ground and $175 million has been allocated to West Africa to help combat the spread of Ebola. Those efforts will be expanded with the assistance of U.S. Africa Command, which will deploy logistics, command and control, medical, and engineering resources to affected countries.

Peter Grier explains why the Pentagon is leading this mission:

The short answer is because it is the largest and most capable US organization available for emergency action, and has money to pay for the effort. The military’s extensive airlift and health-care infrastructure can quickly plug holes in the current international fight to try and contain the Ebola outbreak. US personnel should be flowing into the area in force in about two weeks, according to the White House. … Plus, the administration has now decided it’s time to move fast. If anything, it is past time. Cases are increasing at an exponential case. UN officials on Tuesday estimated that the world will need to commit upward of $1 billion to contain the crisis.

But Hayes Brown notes that other government agencies are involved as well:

Though the main takeaway from the White House’s announcement is the AFRICOM deployment, it won’t just be the military responding to the crisis. The U.S. government will also continue its quest to find doctors willing to travel to West Africa to help tackle the crisis. The U.S. Agency for International Development has for several weeks now had on its website an appeal “to the medical community in the United States for assistance with the West Africa Ebola Outbreak,” imploring qualified medical professionals to contact organizations working in the region through the Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI).

A sizable amount of funding is also being redirected to facilitate the new initiatives being launched in not just the Pentagon and USAID, but also the State Department, Centers for Disease Control, Department of Health and Human Services and other government agencies. The administration is asking Congress to provide another $30 million to send CDC workers and equipment to the region and $58 million to help develop an effective Ebola vaccine.

Adam Taylor provides a wrap-up of what other countries are doing to help fight the epidemic. Meanwhile, Rachael Rettner pushes back on Michael Osterholm’s fears that the virus could mutate and become airborne, which would raise infection rates catastrophically:

Although it’s theoretically possible that Ebola could become airborne, “it’s pretty unlikely,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease physician at the University of Pittsburgh. “Airborne transmission may be what we fear the most, but evolutionarily speaking, it may not be the best path for the virus to take,” Adalja said. The Ebola virus does mutate, or change its genetic material,, fairly frequently, but this does not necessarily mean it can become airborne, Adalja said. The HIV virus has a high rate of mutation as well, but it has not acquired the ability to spread through the air, Adalja said. In fact, none of the 23 viruses that cause serious disease in humans have been known to mutate in a way that changed their mode of infection, according to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former deputy commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration, who recently wrote about the topic in Forbes.