It was good news, without question, when President Barack Obama announced that the United States will send 3,000 troops to West Africa to help with the deadly Ebola epidemic in West Africa. It is a fitting American start to offering assistance to this critical problem. In fact, one can only hope that it’s the beginning of a wide-ranging effort to bring an end to this scourge.
The Ebola virus has not only caused the deaths of more than 2,400 people in West Africa, but also is well on its way to decimating the hard-fought gains of the economies of several countries. It has slowed commerce and created fear among citizens.
The president made the case clearly and strongly. “This epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better,” Obama said while speaking at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The world, he said, “has the responsibility to act, to step up and to do more. The United States intends to do more.”
Ebola is a form of hemorrhagic fever that can have up to a 90 percent fatality rate. It can take hold within its victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhea. In several cases, it produces organ failure and unstoppable bleeding. Many officials believe that the disease is carried by animals hunted for meat, notably bats.
Researchers say that the disease cannot be transmitted through the air. The incidents of Ebola are most significant in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Take Liberia for example. The Ebola virus has produced so much fear that people are reluctant to interact with others. Pastors report that church attendance is down, and for those who do come to worship, they spread out the chairs so that congregation members don’t have to sit too close to one another.
Many restaurants have virtually stopped operating because of mounting fears of potentially infected food workers. People have become afraid to ride on public transportation and sit next to each other because of uncertainty over who is carrying the virus. Many schools have closed, and the University of Liberia, the nation’s premier college, has shut down for a month. Meanwhile, the Peace Corps withdrew its personnel from the country.
Obama’s announcement of the 3,000 troops came after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf impassionately asked the American president for assistance, specifically for 1,500 Ebola hospital beds. She said it was the least that could be done to address the crisis in Liberia.
“In a country that has barely emerged from a 30-year period of civil and political unrest, with the presence of a large youthful [mainly unemployed] population, some of whom were child soldiers, this health emergency threatens civil order,” Sirleaf said in a letter to Obama.
It would be encouraging for the United States to do even more than Obama announced. Without some significant intervention, it’s likely the Ebola crisis in West Africa will mushroom beyond anyone’s ability to control. That would be a disaster for these countries in West Africa, which need the added assistance of the world to help control this horrible situation.