Obama's Ebola action plan wins praise

PHOTO: Obama's Ebola action plan wins praise

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama's announcement of a major expansion of the United States' role in trying to halt the spread of Ebola has won praise from the World Health Organisation (WHO), aid workers and officials in West Africa where the disease is raging.

While experts are not suggesting that the US push was solely responsible for the momentum the global movement has gained, they say the show of commitment was an important signal to the world.

"This massive ramp-up of support from the United States is precisely the kind of transformational change we need to get a grip on the outbreak and begin to turn it around," WHO director-general Margaret Chan said in a statement on Tuesday.

Doctors Without Borders also welcomed the move with its director of operations Brice de le Vingne saying in a statement that the US response plan "appears to match the scope of the disaster unfolding in West Africa".

Importantly, the new US effort, along with its chairing of an emergency session of the UN Security Council today and its plan to push for greater action during the UN General Assembly, "likely will catalyse greater responses from other nations", said Dr Joshua Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, DC.

Mr Obama, during his visit to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday, said he would make sure the world "understands the need for them to step alongside us... to make sure that this doesn't have the kinds of spillover effects that become even more difficult to control".

With much of the measures released earlier, Mr Obama used his speech to make the case for urgent action despite projections that the risk of local outbreak in the US remains extremely low.

"If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us," he said.

"So this is an epidemic that is not just a threat to regional security - it's a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic. That has profound effects on all of us, even if we are not directly contracting the disease."

Dr Michaud welcomed the US measures saying it addresses key gaps, but stressed that its success will now be determined by how quickly it can be done.

"There is no time to waste as the epidemic is expanding so quickly. Each day, each week of additional delay means more people will die from the disease and more families and communities will be disrupted by it.

"A key marker of success for the renewed US effort will be how quickly the military and the rest of the US government support can begin building, training, and transporting to address the enormous and growing needs in the region," he said.

While initial reactions to the US push has been positive, there are some who think action could have been taken sooner.

"We could have done more to tamp down the crisis if we had jumped in earlier. When President Obama hosted African leaders at the White House (in September), Ebola did not even seem to be on the agenda," said Dr Tevi Troy, adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and author of a forthcoming book on presidents and disasters.

jeremyau@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Sept 18, 2014.
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