US prepares Ebola worker 'surge,' evacuation plan

The U.S. government is preparing to send more healthcare workers to West Africa to fight the Ebola epidemic as international aid workers leave the region due to exhaustion or illness.

The State Department is also setting up a robust system for evacuating aid workers who become sick while working on the ground.


Both efforts were described in a contracting document, first reported by Bloomberg News, that points to the enormous logistical challenge of moving patients with Ebola back to the United States.

"Even a routine medical evacuation is challenged by unwillingness on the part of air ambulance vendors and aircraft charter services to fly to the region," stated the document, posted Wednesday.

Most European Union countries have refused to allow planes carrying Ebola patients to fly over or stop in their territory, it added.

The evacuations will require "a very unique combination of aircraft specifications and capacity, human resources, highly technical equipment, and very specific certifications not easy [sic] found in the industry."

So far, four American doctors have been airlifted to U.S. hospitals after contracting Ebola.

Global and U.S. officials have warned that without a similar guarantee for other medical volunteers, it will be impossible to recruit enough personnel needed to care for the epidemic's 4,000-plus cases.

"The international community is finding recruitment of professional staff very difficult without being able to articulate a sound medical evacuation plan," the document stated.

The contractor who will handle evacuations, Phoenix Air Group, will receive as much as $4.9 million over six months for the work.

Five non-U.S. countries along with the United Nations and the World Health Organization have also approached the company with the same needs.

The Ebola outbreak has reached dire proportions, according to global health officials. Nearly 2,300 were dead from the virus as of this week and the pace of new fatalities is increasing.

U.S. agencies, which are increasingly spearheading the response, are expected to receive an additional $88 million to address Ebola in Congress's next government funding bill.

More spending will also arrive from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which pledged $10 million on Tuesday, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which pledged $50 million on Wednesday. 

Roughly 1,400 U.S. personnel are in West Africa fighting the virus as of this week, the State Department said.