MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Ebola has no greater friend than fear. It thrives on it. That tweet today from Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., who's just back from a trip to West Africa. She visited all three countries where Ebola has been raging - Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. And Ambassador Power joins us from New York. Welcome back to the program.
SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you. Good to be here.
BLOCK: We just heard about some positive signs in Liberia - more diagnostic labs, more beds and clinics. I wonder what struck you as the clearest symbol of progress in your trip.
POWER: I think a Navy lab that I visited up-country, about a six or seven hour drive from Monrovia, where you have three Navy guys who had arrived just two weeks before, and they had cut the testing time for Ebola down from basically one week to between three and five hours. And then hearing from doctors in the area that cutting down that testing time means that Ebola-positive and Ebola-negative people who don't know of their status are not cohabitating then for that entire week.
And that means that people who don't have Ebola but who may have malaria or the flu or - are filtered away, and that then frees up more beds. And you could see the morale of everyone associated with the anti-Ebola effort increasing because the knowledge that there were beds - you know, I'll come forward and be a hygienist or a sanitation worker if I know there might be a place for me in case the protocols get breached.
BLOCK: Yeah, so those are some bright spots. What about on the flip side? What's the bad news?
POWER: Well, there just aren't enough beds yet out in the countryside. I think what we saw on our trip was really concentrated progress in both Freetown and in Monrovia by virtue, frankly, of the infusion of British and American command and control, logistic support, building capability, aviation, you know, the ability to move around the country, and the development of command and control centers in each of the two capitals that were fanning out instructions as to what to do on burial in Freetown or on burial in Monrovia. Those structures and those capabilities have to be replicated out at the district level or the county level so that burial teams are quick to respond to calls, so that there are cellphones even to make calls when somebody dies of something suspected to be Ebola.
So I think in a way, it's misleading to see the progress in the capital and think that it extends everywhere. On the other hand, it shows you what can be scaled if you have the resources, if you have the international health workers, if you have the helicopters to get out to those more distant areas.
BLOCK: And just to be clear, you weren't going to clinics yourself where patients were being treated? You weren't exposed to Ebola patients?
POWER: We were not exposed to Ebola patients.
BLOCK: Now that you're back, what protective measures are you taking?
POWER: Well, I'm actively monitoring, which means that even though I wasn't exposed to anybody with Ebola, I just take my temperature twice a day for 21 days and call it in. And so the state health workers will keep track of my case in that manner. I'm in the very low-risk category.
BLOCK: At the same time, we're hearing about U.S. military personnel who've left these West African countries, and they're being effectively quarantined in Italy for three weeks even though they also had no contact with Ebola patients - a stricter policy than what the CDC recommends. Is that sending the wrong message?
POWER: Look, I think we're all low-risk. Again, our military forces will be performing roles like building roads and unloading materials from flights that come in. But as you know, the military tend to live in barracks and operate as groups together. And doing individualized screening on 1,000, 2,000, maybe 3,000 troops who come home would be very labor-intensive. So I think all things considered, this just seemed a prudent course. And, of course, their families will welcome them back as soon as they can.
BLOCK: So you think that makes sense?
POWER: I think that every institution is doing the cost-benefit and figuring out how to integrate people, how to attract people to the cause. And it's a balancing act. And we need to, on the one hand, address the fears that communities have here in the United States - I mean, many people are hearing about, learning about Ebola for the first time - but without doing anything that will interfere with the best way to protect the American people, which is to tackle the problem at its source.
Anything that deters or discourages or stigmatizes workers who are part of that solution that not only rescues these countries in their hour of greatest need but also keeps us safe in the medium and long-term, is something we want to avoid.
BLOCK: Well, Ambassador Power, thanks for talking with us today.
POWER: Thank you for having me.
BLOCK: That's Samantha Power. She's the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
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