President Obama has said that the United States military will begin aiding the response to an outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa that has claimed the lives of at least 2,100 people in five countries.
In an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press," Obama said the epidemic was a "national security priority" and added that the military would be involved in setting up isolation units and other equipment, as well as providing security for public health workers from around the world.
"If we do that, then it's still going to be months before this problem is controllable in Africa," Obama said. "But it shouldn't reach our shores."
However, Obama also warned that the virus could conceivably spread beyond West Africa, mutating and becoming more easily transmissible in the process, "and then it could become a serious danger to the United States."
Obama's statement comes after global health officials had faulted world leaders for failing to organize a more robust response to the outbreak, leaving much of the heavy lifting to West African governments and charitable organizations. All three Americans who have been infected with the Ebola virus were working for missionary organizations in Liberia at the time.
Last week, Joanne Liu, international director of the charity Doctors Without Borders, told the United Nations in a briefing that "the world is losing the battle" to contain the outbreak six months after its start. Liu's words echoed those of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden, who told reporters that the number of Ebola cases was "increasing rapidly."
Frieden, who visited three of the hardest-hit countries -- Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea -- said, "There is a window of opportunity to tamp this down, but that window is closing ... we need action now to scale up the response.
On Friday, Liu told The Washington Post that the group was appealing to governments to send military assets to West Africa to provide support. Liu said that only the military has the ability to deploy assets like mobile laboratories and field hospitals quickly and efficiently.
"Because the response has been so slow, we now have to switch to a mass-casualty response," Liu told the Post.
The paper reports that Obama has asked Congress to provide $88 million to send more CDC personnel and equipment to West Africa. If approved that amount would bring the total commitment by the United States to over $250 million.