While there are no new Ebola cases in the United States, President Obama warned Friday that major challenges remain in West Africa.
“We will not have defeated this disease until we have defeated it where it is most prevalent, in West Africa,” Obama said before meeting with his national security and public health teams about Ebola response efforts.
The president said he is encouraged by recent signs of progress, but more work needs to done. Ebola cases are down in Liberia, but problems remain in Guinea and Sierra Leone, Obama said, including “an uptick in cases” in Sierra Leone, where nearly 400 new confirmed cases were reported in the first week of December — three times as many as Guinea and Liberia combined.
On Wednesday, parts of Sierra Leone were placed under a 2-week ‘lockdown’ after a team from the World Health Organization discovered an outbreak in a remote eastern district that had been largely hidden up to that point. The disease is also spreading rapidly in western Sierra Leone, particularly in and around the capital, Freetown, and in the district surrounding Port Loko, a regional trade hub.
In his remarks, the president praised the efforts of the military in West Africa, as well as health care workers and volunteers from the U.S. and around the world. He said he is “very pleased to see Time magazine identify those health workers on the front lines of fighting Ebola as Persons of the Year.”
Obama also noted that money to fight Ebola is included in a $1.1 trillion spending plan set to be approved by Congress. The bill includes $5.4 billion in Ebola funding, just short of the $6.2 billion the President requested last month to fight the Ebola outbreak and strengthen prevention measures domestically.
At least 6,500 people have died and more than 18,000 have been infected with Ebola since the outbreak began nearly a year ago. The three hardest-hit countries — Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea — account for almost all of the cases and deaths, though isolated clusters of Ebola have also spread to Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Spain, and the United States.
As long as Ebola remains a threat in West Africa, Obama said, there is always the possibility that the disease could spread to the United States and across the globe. “We’ve got to stay on it,” Obama said. “This is not a problem that is going to go away anytime soon.”