WASHINGTON – Lawmakers on Capitol Hill said Wednesday that with the threat of Ebola in the United States diminished for now, the government’s resources should shift toward fighting the disease in West Africa.
“Here in the United States of America, there are currently no cases of Ebola. There was nine, now there’s none,” said Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Now we have to do this worldwide.”
The committee convened to discuss the $6.2 billion in emergency funding President Barack Obama is requesting to help shore up the government’s domestic response to the disease and to build public health capabilities in countries where the threat is still great.
The hearing came three days after Dr. Craig Spencer, who contracted the disease in October after working with patients in Western Africa with Doctors Without Borders, was released from Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. Spencer’s release means there are no confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States.
Mikulski pointed out that there still are more than 13,500 people who have contracted the disease in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and more than 5,000 who have died. In order to prevent more cases from coming to the U.S., we have to combat them at their root source, she said.
Of the $6.2 billion requested, $2 billion would go to the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development to help train health officials and build up hospital resources within the countries most affected. The Department of Health and Human Resources would receive $2.43 billion to speed up testing of vaccines and other therapeutics. Another $1.54 billion would go into a contingency fund that would only be used if unplanned events occur.
“When I visited Liberia, I came to the conclusion that the Liberian government was doing all that it could with its limited resources,” said Michael Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense. “If we don’t act now, our incremental responses will be outpaced by this dynamic epidemic.”