The United States has no plans for reallocation of personnel to combat the growing outbreak of Ebola on the ground in Congo due to worsening security barriers, officials said on Wednesday.
The outbreak in northeastern Congo takes place in an active war zone and has now become the country's largest for more than four decades. Attacks on government posts and civilians of dozens of armed militias have complicated the work of Ebola response teams, which often have to cancel crucial work track cases and isolate people infected with the fatal virus. Violence has escalated in recent weeks, including attacks of armed groups this weekend near the operations center in Beni, the urban epicenter in northern Kivu province.
No US citizens work in the outbreak, but staff from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Agency for International Development is in Kinshasa, the capital, about 1000 miles away. Additional staff work in neighboring countries. Whether to place staff in the heart of the outbreak is a continuing debate within the administration.
A fewExperienced Ebola experts from CDC were taken back from Beni at the end of August after an attack of an armed group against a Congolese military site along a road near where the team travels, according to a leading US ambassador to Congo. No US government officials or other Ebola respondents targeted or near that attack.
"Securing our staff's security is our top priority," said an administrative official during a briefing for reporters Wednesday. He spoke on terms of anonymity because of rules established by the White House. Washington continuously follows the security situation, but at the moment, "it's simply too dangerous," he said.
Abuse of these security issues are the attacks of 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, which killed a US ambassador and three other Americans, according to public health experts familiar with discussions about American staff deployment who spoke in background information with journalists.
The administration's official refused to say whether sending CDC experts under the protection of US military personnel is under consideration. "I will not control or exclude anything," he said. However, he noted that during the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people, the US military provided only logistical support.
After the CDC director Robert Redfield increased the opportunity last week that the outbreak has worsened so dramatically that it will not be controlled, US officials tried to worsen the scenario. They unequivocally emphasized that the administration's goal is to stop the outbreak.
"The Ebola response is a priority of the US government," said Tim Ziemer, a senior official at USAID, at another briefing hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Ziemer had led to global health safety at the National Security Council but left this position suddenly in May after the global health security team he supervised resolved during a reorganization by National Security Advisor John Bolton.
One of the biggest problems with controlling an outbreak, especially this, is that respondents can not identify and track all contacts with Ebola patients. Without that ability, the disease continues to spread. Particularly worried in this outbreak is that estimated 60 to 80 percent of new confirmed cases lack known links to previous cases, making it virtually impossible for responders to track infections and stop transferring.
"It shows that your systems are not working, you fail to get your arms around this outbreak," said J. Stephen Morrison, a CSIS senior vice president.
At the CSIS briefing, the World Health Organization's disaster speaker, from Geneva, said the outbreak was expected to last for another six months, at best. Peter Salama also said that informal health clinics, which are unregulated and often operated by traditional doctors, may have spread the virus in Beni because mothers and children sought help for cases of Ebola malignant as malaria, which has similar early symptoms.