Weekly Columns

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently warned the number of Ebola cases could hit 21,000 by early November unless efforts to curb the outbreak are ramped up. 

WHO estimates that over 3,000 people have died in the worst outbreak of Ebola virus in history. In total, over 5,800 people in West Africa have been infected. 

President Obama recently announced a large-scale U.S. military-led response to this deadly outbreak in West Africa.  

That same day, I participated in a Senate committee hearing on the global challenge and public health threat of the Ebola crisis in West Africa. 

Among those testifying at the hearing was Dr. Kent Brantly, a U.S. missionary who put his medical expertise to use to help Liberians suffering from Ebola. He is also an Ebola survivor himself having contracted the disease while treating patients in Monrovia. 

In his testimony, Dr. Brantly called for a larger leadership U.S. role in West Africa, saying that the WHO’s efforts to stop the outbreak are “so bound up by bureaucracy that they have been painfully slow and ineffective in this response.” 

He told us America needs to be in charge of the mission, saying that it “is imperative that the U.S. take the lead instead of relying on other agencies. The U.S. military is highly trained with a clear chain of command. They are experienced in responding to complex international crises such as what we are facing now. I believe they are the only force capable of mounting an immediate, large-scale offensive to defeat this virus before it lays waste to all of West Africa.” 

I agree that U.S. assistance is necessary to quickly take charge of the situation as it continues to spiral out of control. The reality is we live in a small world and we need to eradicate this threat before it escalates to an even bigger crisis. While I believe the President’s proposed strategy can be successful, I do think more must be done to ensure that we do not fall into the same traps as WHO’s operation. 

One easy way to prevent our mission from becoming a bureaucratic failure is to appoint a central coordinator in Washington. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is handling the public health aspects, the Defense Department and USAID have lead on logistics and materials, and the National Security Advisor is helping to coordinate. However, there isn’t a single individual in charge of the entire operation. That was one of the points I raised at the hearing.

We need a point person in charge to avoid ending up in the same bureaucratic quagmire that currently exists.   

During the hearing, I also pushed officials to ensure the public that the proper steps are being taken to prevent individuals infected with Ebola from bringing it into the U.S. Exit screenings of passengers at international airports for Ebola symptoms is a key component of preventing its spread here.  Clearly that is a concern for the public and we must be able to reassure Americans that every precaution is being taken to protect public health at home. 

The world is more interconnected than ever. If left unchecked, this public health crisis can become a national security threat. This is all the more reason this crisis is in need of U.S. leadership.