AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
A global security threat, that's how far President Obama went in describing the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The president spoke at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta yesterday afternoon. Mr. Obama said there needs to be rapid action to get the Ebola outbreak under control.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us.
CORNISH: In response, the U.S. is sending thousands of American military personnel to the region to build hospitals, train health care workers and deliver relief supplies. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports that aid groups and health workers in West Africa are welcoming the president's plan.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: After months of calls by aid workers for the global community to do something about the escalating Ebola crisis President Obama announced a plan for a massive international intervention.
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OBAMA: At the request of the Liberian government we're going to establish a military command center in Liberia to support civilian efforts across the region.
BEAUBIEN: The Defense Department is also going to set up a logistics base in Senegal to ferry personnel and relief supplies into the countries hardest hit by Ebola. The Obama administration plan calls for American troops to construct 17 new treatment centers in Liberia. They'll also set up a facility to train thousands of locals to look after people infected by the deadly virus. An administration official on background says the Ebola response efforts of the Defense Department alone could cost as much as a billion dollars. Doctors Without Borders has been warning for months that this Ebola outbreak is out of control.
BRICE DE LA VIGNE: We need to be ambitious if we want to be able to tackle the disease.
BEAUBIEN: Brice de la Vigne, the operations director for the group in Brussels, says the new U.S. plan is a step in the right direction. He just hopes it can be put into place quickly.
DE LA VIGNE: Time is a key element, and whatever the deployment it needs to happen very, very quickly.
BEAUBIEN: The Obama administration says military personnel are already being sent, and they hope to have much of this running within weeks. Fitzhugh Mullan, a professor of public health policy at George Washington University, has studied medical education in Africa extensively. He says the public health systems in the parts of West Africa where this outbreak is raging were incredibly weak even before Ebola arrived. Mullan says trying to train 500 new health care workers a week would be a major challenge anywhere.
FITZHUGH MULLAN: I think it's ambitious, but I'm not sure you have a choice. I mean, the alternative to do this sort of by the book will undoubtedly let the epidemic get way out beyond you.
BEAUBIEN: This is an unprecedented outbreak. There simply aren't enough health care workers to treat all the people who are sick right now. Never mind the tens of thousands who could be infected in the coming months. Foreign aid workers also are not rushing in to help. President Obama's plan to try to rapidly train thousands of West African health care workers, Mullen says, is unconventional and experimental, but he says there aren't many other options on the table. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Washington.
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