By Justin Sink - 09/16/14 04:39 PM EDT
President Obama on Tuesday warned that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is "spiraling out of control" and could see "hundreds of thousands of people infected" if the world does not act.
"It's getting worse," Obama said after a briefing with officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. "It's spreading faster and exponentially."
Obama noted that in affected countries, "an already very weak public health system is nearing collapse. Patients are being turned away, and people are literally dying in the streets."
"This is an epidemic that's not just a threat to regional security. It's a threat to global security," Obama said, insisting that the international community "can't dawdle."
The president said he was addressing the crisis by ordering "a major increase" in American help. The United States plans to announce a military command center in Liberia to support the U.S. effort, and administration officials say as many as 3,000 military personnel could be dispatched to the region to help the fight against Ebola.
"Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States. And it’s a responsibility that we embrace," Obama said. "We’re prepared to take leadership on this to provide the kinds of capabilities that only America has and to mobilize the world in ways that only America can do. That’s what we’re doing as we speak."
The president said the U.S. would also create "an air bridge" to get health workers and medical supplies to West Africa faster, and build a training site where military doctors and nurses would instruct thousands of African aid workers on best practices to confront the disease.
The administration is also planning to build 17 hospitals, each with 100 beds, for those suffering from Ebola, and the U.S. will dispatch additional public health officials to assist with the effort.
Obama’s speech came amid growing pressure from Capitol Hill for the administration to ramp up the U.S. response.
“I think this Ebola outbreak in Africa is a serious problem and I’m a bit surprised the administration hasn’t acted more quickly to address what is a serious threat, not only to Africans but to others around the world,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said earlier Tuesday.
Last week, a number of House Republicans asked the administration to highlight measures taken to prevent the disease from reaching American shores. The Senate also held its first hearing on the outbreak Tuesday.
International health officials have also urged nations to do more, with the World Health Organization saying that Ebola costs could top $1 billion, and even then only limit the epidemic to “tens of thousands” of cases.
Obama on Tuesday also said others had a "responsibility to act, to step up, and to do more."
"This is a global threat and it demands a truly global response," Obama said, telling other countries they must "deliver what they pledge more quickly."
The president said international organizations also "need to move faster than they have up to this point" and that he wanted additional commitments from non-governmental organizations and private charities.
"The reality is this epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better, but right now the world still has an opportunity to save countless lives," Obama said.
The president also called on Congress to approve a $88 million funding request that will be attached to a temporary spending measure under consideration this week "so we can carry on with all of these efforts."
Before traveling to Atlanta, Obama met in the Oval Office with Kent Brantley, an American aid worker who contracted the disease while working in West Africa.
Brantly and another American medical worker, Nancy Writebol, were successfully treated for Ebola at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Both were given an experimental therapy called ZMapp and fully recovered from the virus, which kills roughly half of those who contract it.
This story was updated at 4:50 p.m.