Well, it's good to know it's being taken seriously, right? That's maybe the most optimistic takeaway from President Obama's remarks on the widening Ebola outbreak in West Africa, made in his interview with newly minted Meet The Press host Chuck Todd, which aired Sunday. Obama ordered the U.S. military to aid the Ebola effort, as well as pledging American forces would help set up equipment to halt the spread of one of the world's most lethal and frightening viruses. But don't start imagining sunnier skies on the horizon in West Africa just yet — Obama said that even with this level of response, it would be months before the Ebola outbreak is controllable.
While this is the first time the U.S. military has been called into action in the fight against Ebola, the severity of the situation in the countries stricken with the virus — Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and most recently Senegal — has been at the level for months that you'd expect some kind of aggressive American response. While the brunt of the disease has been squarely on Africans, since the outbreak's early stages back in February, three Americans have been sickened while working abroad.
Initially Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol were infected, but both were cured thanks to treatment at Atlanta's Emory University. Now Brantly's replacement in Liberia, Richard Sarca, has fallen ill. He's also been returned to the U.S. for treatment, being transported to a University of Nebraska medical center, according to Newsweek.
In short, in an interview already chock-full of dire and weighty situations to address — he also touched on the threat posed by ISIS, America's response to the Islamic militant group, and his widely-criticized decision to postpone executive action on immigration until after the midterm elections — Obama saw fit to make it clear that Ebola isn't a problem we can keep at arm's length anymore.
The Centers for Disease Control's administration clearly agrees. After a trip to West Africa to survey the situation, CDC director Tom Frieden gave a dire warning, according to The Daily Beast: "The window is closing."
The level of outbreak is beyond anything we’ve seen—or even imagined. ... The most upsetting thing I saw was what I didn’t see. No data from countries where it’s spreading, no rapid response teams, no trucks, a lack of efficient management. I could not possibly overstate the need for an urgent response.
In other words, you should expect the U.S. to take a more proactive role in containing the outbreak going forward, and to try to coordinate with other foreign governments to provide some relief. The threat of Ebola crossing national borders, after all, is a global one. Nobody even remotely wants to consider what a truly widespread outbreak across the Eastern Hemisphere would look like, and paranoia about the virus is running high in America too.
While it may feel like this sort of urgency should've been applied sooner, this is kind of a "keep your eyes forward" situation at the moment — the arguments about what could've been done better will still be waiting for us when it's all over. But for now, there's one responsibility on the plates of West African and international governments, and that's halting Ebola's spread.
The crisis has been on a steadily worsening trajectory for months, now — at last update, the death toll has reached over 1,900, according to the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Over 3,500 people total have been sickened with the virus, which works out to a mortality rate of approximately 54 percent or so — far better than the rates of death in previous Ebola outbreaks, but still bad odds.
Images: Getty Images (2), Flickr/NIAID