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Military picks up pace in Ebola fight in Liberia

Capt. Brian Shea with the 37th Airlift Squadron performs a preflight walk around of his C-130 on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as his crew prepares to deliver pallets of supplies, including water and MREs, to Liberia to support the U.S. military effort to fight Ebola in West Africa, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014.

JOSHUA L. DEMOTTS/STARS AND STRIPES

By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 8, 2014

Top U.S. officials in Liberia rejected perceptions Wednesday that aid to those suffering from the Ebola virus was coming too slowly, saying that despite many obstacles, they’re finally seeing signs of progress.

Bill Berger, leader of USAID’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team, said his team had been working at “a furious pace,” and that “(w)e’re all feeling that sense of momentum.”

U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac said: “When I think back to the dark days of July or August, I’m pleased with how far we’ve come.”

The Reuters news agency quoted Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as saying she appreciated international aid to battle Ebola but “we just need to see a little bit faster action, that's all."

Sirleaf made the comment Wednesday on a tour of villages in remote northern Liberia, Reuters said.

Berger, Malac, and Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, U.S. Army Africa commander and head of a joint military task force sent to Liberia last month, all said in a conference call from Monrovia that progress was already visible, including two mobile testing labs that have made it possible to diagnose Ebola cases in hours instead of days or longer.

“The two mobile labs came in last Sunday and were fully operational Thursday and Friday,” Williams said.

Construction of a facility to treat ill health care workers will be completed on Friday, Williams said, “and they just started it last week.”

Some 17 Ebola treatment centers with 100 beds each are expected to be completed by next month.

Two more hospitals — for U.S. personnel — are also being built, one in Monrovia and another in Senegal, Williams said, as up to 4,000 servicemembers, many of them with the 101st Airborne Division, begin arriving.

Both are to be “Level II” hospitals that would treat trauma and a variety of illnesses such as malaria. If any troops were to test positive for Ebola, however, they would be evacuated to the U.S., said Gen. David Rodriguez, U.S. Africa commander.

The first few weeks that troops have been on the ground in Liberia have been used to analyze what was needed — “to identify gaps we can fill, and to be well-positioned to take advantage of that heft (that the military would bring),” Malac said.

Still, the officials said, the contagious nature of the Ebola epidemic, which has killed more than 2,000 Liberians, sickened more than 4,000 and overwhelmed the country’s health care capacity, has had an effect on their work. “I think I wash my hands about 30 times a day — with chlorine,” Williams said.

“It is complex,” he continued. “It has rained pretty much since we’ve been here, extensively … The environment, the weather — we’ll continue to adapt. That’s what we do,” he said.

He said that troops’ families should know that soldiers are doing well. “They’re excited about their mission,” he said.

Asked whether they’d been affected by what seems to be terrible suffering by the Liberians, Malac said there had been “a lot of sensational coverage” by the news media.

“Normal life is going on around town for the most part,” she said. “It’s strikingly normal, if you will.”

montgomery.nancy@stripes.com

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