President Obama’s plan to send 3,000 troops to Africa to fight the Ebola epidemic places a serious risk to the U.S. military both at home and abroad.
According to the White House, “At the request of the Liberian government, we’re going to establish a military command center in Liberia to support civilian efforts across the region… It’s going to be commanded by Major General Darryl Williams, commander of our Army forces in Africa. … our forces are going to bring their expertise in command and control, in logistics, in engineering.”
The Administration has failed to provide any information about what protective gear the troops would be issued, and what percentage of the three thousand would have at least basic training in dealing with epidemic outbreaks.
While experts maintain that Ebola is mainly transmitted through body to body contact, no epidemiologist is willing to guarantee that the disease will not mutate and become infectious through airborne means such as coughing or sneezing. In fact, Ebola has been transmitted through airborne means in cases found in pigs and monkeys.
There is no practical means to ensure the safety of our servicemen and women. Add to that disturbing fact is the reality that symptoms of infection may not be evident for up to three weeks, according to the World Health Organization , which stresses: “No licensed vaccine for EVD is available. Several vaccines are being tested, but none are available for clinical use…”
There is little doubt that international aid is desperately required. The National Center for Communicable diseases notes that “The scale of this outbreak is unprecedented and has not been brought under control, with all three affected countries reporting new cases and deaths. Of concern is the dramatic surge in new cases in all three affected countries, which reflects on going transmission of infection in the community and in healthcare facilities. This is likely due to inadequate treatment facilities, insufficient human resources and, in some areas, persistent community resistance to instituting preventive measures.”
But while trained medical professionals are urgently required, and perhaps some protective services to assist them, the provision of three thousand U.S. soldiers, as well as some British military personnel, may be providing more risk than reward.
Consider the possibility: An individual soldier becomes contaminated. Troops deployed in the region live in close quarters, giving the disease a good chance of spreading. Some will be rotated out of Africa or otherwise travel back home, providing a dangerously efficient means of spreading Ebola throughout both the U.S. military as well as the civilian population.
In an interview in the military newspaper States and Stripes, Bruce Aylward, The World Health Organization’s assistant director, said “This health crisis we face is unparalleled in modern times. The gravity of the situation is difficult to get across with just a few numbers… With the number of cases, 4,985, and deaths, 2,461, doubling in the past 14 days, ‘you start to get a sense of the rapid escalation we’re seeing of the virus from what was a linear increase in cases to now an almost exponential increase,’ Scientists from Fort Detrick say the number of Ebola cases in West Africa is much larger than official estimates indicate.”
Unease with the White House move began to grow following a New York Times article written by Michael Osteholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. According to Osterholm, “The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has the potential to alter history as much as any plague has ever done. … virologists are loath to discuss openly but are definitely considering in private: that an Ebola virus could mutate to become transmissible through the air. …The current Ebola virus’s hyper-evolution is unprecedented; there has been more human-to-human transmission in the past four months than most likely occurred in the last 500 to 1,000 years. Each new infection represents trillions of throws of the genetic dice.”