The United States is making progress in its efforts to combat the brutal Ebola virus abroad and to prepare for it domestically, but Congress needs to urgently pass emergency funding to keep up the efforts, President Obama plans on saying Tuesday at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Stopping the Ebola epidemic, which in the past eight months has killed more than 5,600 people, remains a national security priority, according to the Obama administration. The president is still waiting for Congress to approve his request for $6.2 billion in emergency funding to accelerate the efforts.
The administration is hoping that Mr. Obama's announcements at the NIH on Tuesday "will serve as an effective catalyst for the completion of that very important work," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday.
Mr. Obama will congratulate leaders at the NIH for the promising results, published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, of the first ever experimental Ebola vaccine tested on humans. The NIH reported that 20 volunteers received the trial vaccine in September, and they all created antibodies against the virus. The NIH now plans to test the vaccine with health care workers in West Africa.
The president, according to the White House, will also discuss progress on other fronts in the fight against Ebola.
The United States' effort to end the epidemic is unprecedented "in terms of its size, scale, and scope," a senior administration official told CBS News.
However, some parts of the national response -- such as establishing a network of U.S. hospitals equipped to treat Ebola patients -- will require additional funding from Congress in order to be fully implemented.
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"This is an emergency funding request for the very reason it is an emergency request," the administration official said. "We feel these funds are absolutely necessary if we're going to continue to advance the efforts we've made."
As the Washington Post reported last week, hospitals have been slow to come forward to serve as Ebola treatment centers in part because of the cost of treating those patients. So far, officials have transported Ebola patients in the U.S. to three hospitals -- Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and the NIH hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. A fourth, Saint Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana, is also equipped for Ebola patients. Ultimately, the administration wants to identify hospitals in every state that can meet the level of preparedness demonstrated by those hospitals.
"We've made tremendous progress, but there's not a date by which this will be completed," the administration official said of the effort to identify the treatment centers.
At a White House event last month, Mr. Obama's "Ebola czar" Ron Klain warned that the disease is still spreading abroad, and therefore still a domestic threat: "We will see other cases of Ebola in the United States, as the president has said, occasionally and sporadically," he said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday announced that two of the three countries hit hardest by the epidemic, Guinea and Liberia, have isolated 70 percent of their Ebola patients and are safely burying 70 percent of those who die from it. However, Sierra Leone failed to meet that 70 percent goal, and WHO expects to see more Ebola victims in West Africa and elsewhere into next year.
The United States has a significant presence in West Africa, where there are close to 3,000 military personnel on the ground. In Senegal, U.S. military teams helped establish a staging base, while personnel in Liberia are helping to construct 10 treatment units. Four are finished, and more should be completed in the coming days. Additionally, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is building five more with the help of partners. Of the existing 24 treatment units in the entire country of Liberia, the U.S. has supported or helped build 20.
The U.S. Defense Department also helped construct the Monrovia Medical Unit in Liberia, a hospital built to care for health workers. The unit, which is staffed by personnel from the U.S. Public Health Service (part of the Department of Health and Human Services), has discharged two survivors so far.
While the administration has cast the Ebola crisis as a national security priority, lawmakers may not give the administration the full $6.2 billion it has asked for. However, House appropriators do expect emergency funding for the Ebola response to be included in a spending bill Congress should pass before leaving at the end of the year.
"Occasionally these priorities need a little pushing and prodding to get through the process in a timely fashion," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday.
Last month, Sens. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, introduced legislation that would specifically establish a $125 million fund for hospitals in the U.S. treating Ebola patients.
The measure is one of 18 bills and resolutions introduced in Congress this year related to Ebola, including a Republican bill that would create a temporary visa ban against people from certain African countries, as well as a bill introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to ensure that military personnel deployed to West Africa receive certain tax benefits.