WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama on Thursday (Friday in Manila) authorized the Pentagon to send reservists to take part in a US mission to combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
Obama said reservists could be called up to active duty for humanitarian aid operations related to the Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa, according to an executive order released by the White House.
The US military has said it plans a force of 3,200 troops in Liberia and Senegal to provide logistical and engineering support in the international fight against the deadly virus, but said it has approval to expand the mission to nearly 4,000 if needed.
There are now more than 500 active duty troops in Liberia and Senegal for the mission.
The reservists — who would be called up due to their particular technical expertise — would be part of that 4,000-strong force, a military official said.
In January 2010, Obama ordered the deployment of reservists to Haiti to take part in humanitarian aid work in the wake of a devastating earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people.
At the height of that operation, more than 20,000 US soldiers were in the Caribbean country.
On Wednesday, Obama once again urged the international community to do more to combat the outbreak of the virus, which has killed nearly 4,500 people, almost all of them in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
In a videoconference with his British, French, German and Italian counterparts, he called on them to “make a more significant” contribution to the fight.
The Pentagon has said no US troops will have contact with patients infected with the virus, but a small number of medical specialists are testing blood samples at several mobile testing labs.
Apart from American troops in Liberia and Senegal, dozens of US government doctors and nurses are due to arrive as soon as next week to run a field hospital for local health workers who contract the virus, officials said.
The 65-member team will come from the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The medical professionals wear naval or Coast Guard uniforms and are often called on by the federal government in emergencies.
The US medical team “will actually be involved in the care and feeding of health care workers who have been inflicted with the Ebola virus,” said Major General Darryl Williams, who leads the US military mission in Liberia.
The doctors and nurses will operate a 25-bed hospital recently constructed by American military engineers, Williams told reporters in a teleconference from Monrovia.
If a US military member contracts the virus, strict protocols would be followed including stabilizing the patient and placing the soldier under quarantine, he said. But the general did not know if a particular US military hospital had been designated to receive potential patients.
Williams, who is due to hand over to a new commander within this month, said heavy rains and Liberia’s limited infrastructure presented the biggest difficulties for the assistance effort.
“I wouldn’t say we underestimated, but I think we didn’t realize how wet it would be here, and that’s become somewhat of a challenge,” the general said.
But he and other officials said the rainy season was almost over and the change in weather would speed up logistical support.