By Sarah Ferris - 04/08/15 04:45 PM EDT
President Obama was briefed Wednesday on the diminishing Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the first time the White House has publicly addressed the disease in several weeks.
Obama met with a team of health and national security advisers in the Situation Room on Wednesday to discuss “what more can be done to get to zero Ebola cases in West Africa,” according to a brief summary of the meeting provided by the White House.
“The President emphasized the urgency of getting to zero, and directed his team to staying engaged to prevent future outbreaks from becoming epidemics,” the statement said.
The Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where nearly 11,000 people have died in the last year.
But for the first time, the epidemic seems to be subsiding.
A total of 30 cases were reported in the first week of April, the lowest weekly total since May 2014, according to new data from the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday.
For the fifth straight week, Sierra Leone reported a decline in new cases. Treatment capacity now “exceeds demand” in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, the WHO said. The last Ebola patient in Liberia died on March 27, and no new cases have appeared since then.
As the number of new cases continues to fall and treatment capacity exceeds demand, global health authorities are rethinking their strategy.
“National authorities in both countries have begun to implement plans for the phased safe decommissioning of surplus facilities,” the WHO reported Wednesday.
The U.S. has already brought home its 2,000 troops, who helped build about a dozen treatment centers and provided logistical support to medical teams.
U.S. health officials have continued to take the lead on promoting vaccine and treatment development. The federal government awarded up to $35 million to a company developing an Ebola treatment last week.
Money is flowing from the president’s emergency funding request last fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has allocated about $350 million out of the $1.2 billion to fight Ebola, its director said in a recent interview.
Two new Ebola vaccines recently reached a critical milestone, researchers announced Wednesday. Both vaccines prevented the virus in monkeys with only one dose and no side effects.
The Obama administration has been accused of failing to respond quickly enough to the spread of Ebola, which has infected more than 25,000 people.
While the some U.S. infectious disease experts traveled to the affected area last spring, the government did not allocate most resources — including its funding — until late last fall.