WASHINGTON - The Obama administration tried to assure skeptical members of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday that its efforts to combat Ebola were showing progress and urged lawmakers to approve $6.2 billion in new emergency funds to contain the deadly virus.
“We believe we have the right strategy in place, both at home and abroad,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
She said a $1 billion-plus U.S. response in West Africa has already begun to show “fragile and fluid” progress to contain infection and assured senators “we are confident that we can limit the number of cases in the United States.”
The administration's funding request, which includes $1.2 billion to protect Americans at home from Ebola, won support from Democrats on the oversight panel. But Republicans were skeptical after a series of missteps by U.S. health officials.
“What we have witnessed these past few months from various agencies has been confusing and at times contradictory,” said Senator Richard Shelby, the committee's top Republican. “The administration has appeared to be preparing for only the best-case scenario.”
The hearing began just after the World Health Organization announced the death toll from the largest ever Ebola outbreak had topped 5,000 cases, nearly all in West Africa. The deadly virus has now infected more than 14,000 people since the latest outbreak began in March.
In the United States, Ebola has spawned a political debate over preparedness, including whether to restrict the movements of health workers and others returning from the West Africa hot zone.
Thomas Eric Duncan of Liberia, the first Ebola case on U.S. soil, died last month in a Dallas hospital while two of his nurses became infected. The nurses both survived, as did Dr. Craig Spencer, who returned to New York City from treating Ebola patients in Guinea before developing symptoms. He has since been declared Ebola free.
The family of Duncan said on Wednesday it had reached a settlement with the hospital that treated him. The settlement includes financial support for the family, but the amounts were not revealed.
Nurses across the United States will stage protest rallies and strikes on Wednesday over what they say is insufficient protection for health workers dealing with patients possibly stricken with Ebola.