America must lead the world in Ebola fight

The president’s emergency request for Congress to approve $6.2 billion to fight Ebola is a bold, robust, and thoughtful proposal, but given the grave realities we face in West Africa, the request is too small. 
 
The president’s proposal focuses first on protecting American citizens, enhancing local and state preparedness, and providing resources for our hospitals and healthcare workers.  It also increases much-needed funding to test and develop new vaccines. 
 

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But Congress should boost efforts in two critical areas—funding for personal protective suits and other equipment, and funding to resuscitate healthcare systems in West African countries that are being ravaged by this disease. 
 
I propose that Congress increase the president’s proposal by $248 million—$200 million more to bring International Disaster Assistance to $1.6 billion, and $48 million more to bring the Economic Support Fund to $260 million. 
 
The mission of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is to examine government programs from a broad, interagency perspective and make recommendations to improve their effectiveness and efficiency. 
 
On Oct. 24, 2014, we held an important hearing about the Ebola outbreak, and one of the key witnesses was Rabih Torbay from the International Medical Corps, which has been battling Ebola on the front lines in Africa for years. 
 
He testified that one of the simplest and most effective steps the United States can take is to help provide a steady and reliable stream of personal protective suits for healthcare workers and others engaged in this deadly fight. 
 
He said his organization goes through more than 800 suits every week, and that figure applies only to a small number of facilities with a limited number of beds.  He testified that current levels meet only 35 percent of demand. 
 
He explained that the United States could help not only by increasing funding to buy these protective suits, but by increasing and stabilizing our manufacturing capacity for this urgently-needed equipment. 
 
Torbay also testified that there is a critical need to revive rudimentary healthcare systems that have essentially collapsed as a result of this outbreak, particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone. 
 
He explained that hospitals have been turned into Ebola treatment units, so primary and secondary treatment for other diseases has been shut down. 
 
Routine vaccines have stopped completely in many areas, so entire generations of children are now being exposed to diseases that are easily preventable.
  
Malaria and diarrhea—two of the biggest killers of children in Africa—are going untreated, so deaths from non-Ebola cases will surge. 
 
I believe we have a fundamental moral and humanitarian obligation to address this crisis.  We are the richest nation in the world, and we have the resources and expertise to make the biggest difference. 
 
But addressing the Ebola crisis in Africa is also in our own self-interest as a nation. 
 
The Defense Department witness at our hearing, Major General James Lariviere, explained it this way:  “This is a national security priority for the United States that truly has global impacts, so we have an opportunity right now to flood the zone.” 
 
Democrats and Republicans agree—we need to attack Ebola at its source in Africa to protect Americans here at home. 
 
As our Committee Chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), concluded at the end of our hearing:  “To deal with this disease, we will have to go to its source.  We will have to work together with our partners around the world to eradicate it in Africa.” 
 
So now let’s do what we do best.  Let’s seize this opportunity to work together to launch—and sustain—an overwhelming attack on this disease that shows the entire world what America stands for.

Cummings has represented Maryland's 7th Congressional District since 1996. He is ranking member on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and also sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.