Ebola Cases 'Leveling Off' in Liberia: UN Ambassador Power

U.S. personnel construct the Monrovia Medical Unit site in Monrovia, Liberia. The MMU is being constructed in the event any medical workers in the area catch Ebola while assisting in Operation United Assistance. Craig Philbrick/Army
U.S. personnel construct the Monrovia Medical Unit site in Monrovia, Liberia. The MMU is being constructed in the event any medical workers in the area catch Ebola while assisting in Operation United Assistance. Craig Philbrick/Army

The military's efforts in Liberia have shown significant progress in containing Ebola even as the epidemic spreads in other West African states, United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power said Wednesday.

"We can literally see a difference" in Liberia since the U.S. launched Operation United Assistance and sent more than 2,200 troops to the region -- the majority to Liberia with a support element in Senegal, Power said at the Defense One Summit in Washington D.C.

"Infection rates have been leveling off" in Liberia, said Power, who recently returned from touring the area with Army Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division who is directing the U.S. military's Ebola effort.

She said she was still reporting twice a day to New York State health authorities on her condition and temperature under Centers of Disease Control 21-day monitoring guidelines for those returning from West Africa.

Power said U.S. military personnel had reduced the testing time to determine whether an individual has Ebola from about a week to less than five hours.

The U.S. has pledged to build 17 Ebola treatment centers of 100 beds each in Liberia, but Power said that some of the treatment centers may now have as few as 10 beds if the progress continues.

Power warned of the surge of new cases in neighboring Sierra Leone, where the British have taken the lead in international efforts. Power said the U.S. was now "looking at how we can support the British effort."

President Obama said Tuesday that West Africa was "nowhere near out of the woods" on controlling Ebola.

"It underscores how important it is to continue to push forward until we stamp out this disease entirely in that region," Obama said before a meeting on Ebola with national security and public health officials. 

"Until we do, there are threats if additional outbreaks, and given the nature of international travel, it means that everybody has some measure of risk," Obama said.

However, Volesky said last week in an audio conference to the Pentagon that the U.S. troop presence in the region would peak in mid-December at about 3,000, which was down from the 4,000 originally planned.

"There is a lot of capacity here that we did not know about before, and so that enabled us to reduce the forces that we thought we originally had to bring," Volesky said. "We will top out in the middle of December just short of 3,000, and that's the most we'll bring into country."

Earlier at the Defense One Summit, Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, suggested that the mobilization authorized last week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of 2,100 Army Reserve and National Guard troops to deploy to West Africa might be reconsidered.

The Reserve and Guard units would deploy in late Spring but only "if we need a second rotation" of troops in West Africa, Odierno said.

In Geneva Wednesday, the World Health Organization said that the death toll from Ebola had risen to 5,420, with 15,145 infections reported, and warned that the virus was still "intense and widespread" in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone, a former British colony, confirmed 533 new cases in the week of Nov. 16.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.

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