Tuesday 20 March 2018

US to withdraw most Ebola troops

Most US troops dealing with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa are to be withdrawn
Most US troops dealing with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa are to be withdrawn

As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa abates, President Barack Obama is withdrawing nearly all the US troops sent to Liberia in September when the disease threatened to spiral out of control.

Mr Obama planned to announce today that only 100 of the 2,800 troops would remain after April 30, for emergency assistance purposes. About 1,500 have returned home. Those staying will work with Liberia's military, regional partners and US civilians.

Before the President's announcement, he met privately with Ebola responders from the United States.

"Just 10 months since the first US government personnel deployed, we have delivered extraordinary results," said Rajiv Shad, head of the US Agency for International Development. He said cases were down 80% and that in Liberia, there were just one or two new ones per day.

The US pullout comes as Ron Klain, who led Mr Obama's Ebola response, wraps up his short-term assignment.

J Stephen Morrison, senior vice president and director of the Global Health Policy Centre at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said that without the boost from the Us and British militaries in the region, "we would have faced a complete runaway outbreak and a complete unravelling of society which was well on its way".

Mr Obama faced initial criticism over his administration's response, particularly after health workers contracted the virus at a Texas hospital while treating a patient who had been infected in Africa. The US tightened policies at home and dedicated more resources to West Africa.

At the height of the outbreak, Liberia was experiencing 119 confirmed Ebola cases per week.

Nevertheless, US officials and independent experts worry about recent increase in cases in Guinea, and an inability to further reduce case counts in Sierra Leone.

"What we're seeing in Guinea and in Sierra Leone is that the new cases are not cases that are showing up on known contacts lists," said Mr Morrison, who worked at USAID and the State Department during the Clinton administration.

While careful not to declare the crisis over, the White House promoting the decline in Ebola cases as a sign that US and global efforts had paid off.

Officials said the US helped build 15 Ebola treatment units, trained more than 1,500 health workers and coaxed the world community into contributing more than 2 billion dollars to Ebola efforts.

The outbreak has killed more than 9,100 people, and the World Health Organisation has warned it will be challenging to bring cases to zero. The outbreak is expected to cost the three most-affected countries - Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea - at least 1.6 billion dollars in lost economic growth.

Press Association

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