US health officers to begin treating Ebola overseas

Dozens of uniformed American officers will begin treating Ebola patients in Liberia this week, part of the first group of doctors and nurses deployed by the U.S. to fight the disease.

A total of 71 members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps will help treat infected healthcare workers in the capital city of Monrovia, the White House said Wednesday.

ADVERTISEMENT
President Obama phoned the officers, who are all volunteers, and said their work "will offer hope to their patients while also reassuring other healthcare workers in the region and those around the globe whose services are needed to end this epidemic," according to a White House release.

The officers will enter conditions that have been called “high risk” by the acting deputy surgeon general, Rear Adm. Scott Giberson.

"Although I do have the general concern that there is high risk," Giberson, who is leading the mission, told USA Today, "I know that ... they're willing to accept that risk in order to succeed in the mission."

Gibson also stressed that there would be a “high level of care” for any Americans who become infected with the disease.

The officers are part of a massive Ebola corps sent by the U.S., which includes thousands of troops, doctors, nurses and scientists.

While most of those are soldiers, the Public Health Service is not part of the nation’s military. It is one of seven types of uniformed services nationwide, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The service, which has about 6,800 volunteers, first announced it would be sending officers to fight Ebola in September.

Protecting American volunteers from Ebola has been a major sticking point in the country’s battle about how to respond to the disease overseas. Funding for Ebola was delayed last month after lawmakers of both parties claimed the government was not adequately responding to concerns about soldiers' safety overseas.

Since then, the Obama administration has been careful to assure the U.S. public that members of the military would not be treating Ebola patients. Instead, they will provide logistics support.

"Through their service, we will bring this epidemic under control at the source, the only way to prevent additional cases of Ebola domestically," the White House wrote in a statement after the call.