Obama: U.S. must fight Ebola now or face long-term risk

Volunteers lower a corpse, prepared with safe burial practices to ensure it does not pose a health risk to others, into a grave in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, July 18, 2014. REUTERS/WHO/Tarik Jasarevic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States needs to do more to help control West Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak to stop it becoming a global crisis that could one day threaten Americans, President Barack Obama said in an interview.

Obama told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the outbreak, which has killed 2,100 people in African five countries, was unlikely to spread to the United States in the short term.

But he added there could be implications if Washington and other powers did not send urgently needed equipment, public health workers and other supplies to the region.

“If we don’t make that effort now, and this spreads not just through Africa but other parts of the world, there’s the prospect then that the virus mutates. It becomes more easily transmittable,” he said in the interview broadcast on Sunday.

“And then it could be a serious danger to the United States,” he added.

The United Nations said last week $600 million in supplies were needed.

“We’re going to have to get U.S. military assets just to set up, for example, isolation units and equipment there, to provide security for public health workers surging from around the world,” Obama said in the interview.

“If we do that, then it’s still going to be months before this problem is controllable in Africa,” he said.

The outbreak that was first identified in Guinea in March has since spread across much of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Cases have also been registered in Nigeria and Senegal. There are no approved Ebola vaccines or treatments.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Andrew Heavens