U.S. President Barack Obama says the fight against Ebola remains challenging, with cases increasing in Sierra Leone and a doctor contracting the disease there before dying in the United States on Monday.
The president spoke Tuesday at the White House after a briefing with his Ebola response team. He said the continued outbreak in West Africa makes clear why a sustained fight against the disease is vital.
"It underscores how important it is to continue to push forward until we stamp out this disease entirely in that region," Obama said.
Obama opened his remarks about Ebola by expressing sorrow over the death of Dr. Martin Salia, a Sierra Leone citizen and U.S. legal resident who on Saturday arrived for treatment at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Already in critical condition, Salia died Monday.
He became the country’s second person to die of Ebola. The first, Thomas Eric Duncan, died at a Texas hospital in early October after contracting the disease in his native Liberia.
Treatment in the United States generally has a better outcome, Obama noted.
"… We’ve established that when Ebola is promptly diagnosed and treated, then we have a great chance of curing it," he said. Of eight patients treated promptly in the United States, all have recovered.
But until the outbreak is ended in West Africa, Obama said, there is still "some measure of risk" to people around the world.
The World Health Organization Friday reported a slight rise in the Ebola death toll, with 5,177 deaths among 14,413 confirmed cases worldwide. It said there has been a "steep increase" in the number of cases in Sierra Leone, including 421 new infections reported last week.
Congressional members solicit information
Members of the U.S. Congress are examining how to help West Africa’s struggle to cope with the outbreak, including with medical needs, logistics and disease education.
An official for the nonprofit International Medical Corps called for a response extending beyond the immediate crisis. Rabih Torbay, testifying at a Tuesday morning hearing held by the House subcommittee on Africa and global health, also recommended investment in emergency preparedness to head off future outbreaks.
Torbay said West Africa’s basic health services need to be strengthened overall – to fight not only Ebola but also malaria and other diseases and to improve childbirth safety and outcomes.
Darius Mans, president of the nongovernmental organization Africare, urged establishing better health care and preparedness systems in the affected areas. He said Africare has begun converting some of its training facilities to treat not just Ebola but all infectious diseases once the current crisis is over.
Later Tuesday, another congressional committee was to hear from several experts about U.S. response to the Ebola crisis. Testimony was expected from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s director, Thomas Frieden, plus acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak and Texas state health commissioner David Lakey.