US officials warn Ebola fight ‘far from over’

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Obama administration officials touted the U.S. response to Ebola in West Africa at a hearing on Wednesday but warned there is more work to be done to defeat the outbreak. 

{mosads}The hearing comes as the White House announced Tuesday night that most of the U.S. troops deployed to fight the outbreak will be returning home by April 30. 

“This is the largest U.S. response to a global health emergency in history, and we are seeing remarkable progress,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

“But the fight is far from over,” he added at the hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. “We know based on previous outbreaks that it can be a long and bumpy road to get to zero.”

Ambassador Steve Browning, the State Department’s Special Coordinator for Ebola, also struck a note of caution about the progress.

“Though the current case rate is falling, there is a long way to go,” he said. “Last week we saw a rise in the number of cases over the previous week, from 100 to 124, a reminder that we are not on a smooth glide path towards zero new cases, which is the goal we must achieve.”

While the White House acknowledged that “our tasks are far from complete,” it also touted the progress that has been made. The number of new cases per week has gone from around 1,000 in October to around 150 now, the White House said.

President Obama is meeting with health officials involved in the response at the White House on Wednesday and giving remarks on the progress.

Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the panel, pressed the officials about the World Health Organization’s shaky early response to the disease in West Africa. The WHO has acknowledged that it did not respond as quickly as it could have early last year, failing to achieve the response needed for what would grow into the largest Ebola outbreak ever. 

“Clearly we need a better system to react in a more timely and effective way,” Lowey said.  

The U.S. response was not significantly ramped up until September, when Obama announced the deployment of 3,000 troops to fight the disease. The fall also saw the issue rise in the United States over the at-times faulty response to the handful of cases in the U.S. 

“Clearly there were some missteps in the early response by WHO,” Browning said. He said there have since been reforms to prepare for a future outbreak, including the creation of an emergency fund.

By April 30, the White House said, the number of Defense Department personnel in West Africa will have dropped from a high of 2,800 to 100.

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