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This past fall, the Ebola epidemic had spread through Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—countries with fragile health and economic systems, weakened by recent episodes of civil war or political instability. Thousands of families across West Africa were at risk of infection. Recognizing the urgent need to act, President Obama directed USAID to lead an international coalition to tackle Ebola with a strategy driven by evidence, innovation, and data.
Within weeks, we mounted the largest U.S. response to a global health crisis in history. Thousands of U.S. Government personnel started working across the region, including the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team that President Obama called the “strategic and operational backbone of America’s response.” At the same time, we helped our partners recruit, train, and equip hundreds of frontline healthcare workers. We created a pipeline of critical supplies—from protective suits to generators—and set up data systems to report precise information on new cases. And we helped launch aggressive local information campaigns, educating vulnerable communities on how to prevent infection.
As part of this comprehensive effort, the U.S. military worked hand-in-hand with USAID and other civilian personnel to tackle the epidemic. Military engineers oversaw the building of new Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs); military logisticians directed the deployment of life-saving resources from across the globe; and military doctors supported the brave men and women who treated patients every day. Perhaps most impressively was how seamlessly the Department of Defense (DoD) integrated into ongoing efforts—ensuring that all frontline civilian staff could do their jobs safely and effectively.
Just 10 months since the first U.S. government personnel deployed, we have delivered extraordinary results. Across West Africa, cases are down by 80 percent. In Liberia—once the heart of the epidemic—we’ve helped cut down new cases from more than 30 a day to as few as one or two.
Given the success of our response—and with more than 10,000 U.S.-supported civilian responders now on the ground—the majority of DoD personnel in West Africa will now return home. In coordination with our international partners, this effort is already underway. At the height of the epidemic, there were 2,800 DoD personnel deployed. Today, around 1,500 of them are already back in the U.S., , and all but 100 will return home by April 30.
Yet, we know that our work is far from over. Even as we have dramatically slowed the rate of new cases, USAID’s efforts will not cease until we get to zero. That’s why we are moving into a new phase of the response focused on building sustainable progress and local capacity—empowering local communities across West Africa to prevent, detect, and respond to future outbreaks before they turn into epidemics.
At the core of the response is an emphasis on harnessing innovation and local leadership. USAID will continue to develop cutting-edge data and diagnostic tools; support the mobilization and provisioning of health care workers; and conduct widespread community mobilization and information campaigns. Meanwhile, all of the ETUs have been transitioned to civilian operators. DoD will also leave behind important assets, including medical equipment, that can help community health workers stem potential outbreaks in the future.
Above all, it is important to underscore that the United States is not leaving West Africa. Civilian personnel will continue to help West African governments restore essential health services, while also strengthening the resilience of the global health system. We will continue to count on the leadership of partners like the State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who have demonstrated unrelenting dedication and incredible skill in supporting the fight on the ground. As part of this effort, approximately 100 DoD personnel will remain in the region, working to strengthen the disease preparedness and surveillance capacity of the national governments. As part of this effort, DoD will identify approximately 100 personnel who will remain in the region, working to strengthen the disease preparedness and surveillance capacity of the national governments. DoD personnel will also build on a strong military partnership with the Armed Forces of Liberia to enhance their Ebola response efforts. This includes training Liberian laboratory technicians to operate diagnostic labs, as well as making disaster response training available to the local military.
Our nation’s life-saving response to the worst Ebola epidemic in history represents an impressive display of American values, commitment, and ingenuity. Even as the headlines have slowed, the tireless work of thousands of frontline health care workers and disasters responders has not. In a year marked by an unprecedented number of humanitarian crises—from South Sudan to Syria— we remain committed to providing help in an emergency, regardless of danger or difficulty. It is one of the most profound expressions of who we are as the American people.