WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon will send a 25-bed field hospital to Liberia to help provide medical care for health workers trying to contain the fast spreading Ebola virus that has killed 2,100 people in West Africa.
The Pentagon said the $22 million hospital was being provided at the request of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is coordinating the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak first identified in Guinea in March.
The announcement on Monday came after President Barack Obama said on Sunday that the United States needed to do more to help control the outbreak to stop it from becoming a global crisis that might eventually threaten Americans.
“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,” Obama said in an interview. “And then it could be a serious danger to the United States.”
He told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program it was important 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.”
Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said the military’s role would be to set up the hospital and then hand it over to the Liberian government to operate. He said there was no plan for U.S. military involvement in providing medical treatment.
“The intent of this piece of equipment is to provide a facility that healthcare workers in the affected region can use for themselves if they become ill or injured,” Warren said.
“No U.S. personnel right now will be providing patient care. We are deploying the hospital facility, setting it up, stockpiling it. We’ll turn it over to the government of Liberia and then the DoD (Defense Department) personnel will depart,” he said.
Warren said the hospital was not yet en route but was expected to be sent soon. U.S. military planners were in the process of working out what equipment was needed for the hospital and identifying where the gear could be obtained.
“It is a top priority. I would expect it to get there rapidly,” Warren said.
Since it was identified in Guinea in March, the Ebola outbreak has 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.
In Liberia, the disease has killed 1,089 people among 1,871 cases, the highest national toll so far, according to the World Health Organization.
Editing by Tom Brown