The U.S. needs to fully commit to the fight against Ebola

After 2,296 deaths, it's time for America to rise to the occasion

On Dec. 6 of last year, a toddler in southeastern Guinea died from Ebola and since then, 2,296 people in West Africa have joined him in the death toll.

The outbreak, which is the most severe epidemic of the disease since its discovery in 1976, has infected at least 4,293 people as of Sept. 6, and is rapidly gaining ground on understaffed and underfunded health organizations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that the outbreak – currently predicted to spread even more quickly in the coming weeks – could be brought to a halt in six to nine months, but only if global powers rise to the occasion.

America – it’s time to do just that.

The United States, and the rest of the world, has a chance to help save lives without any need for political debate and confrontation. This isn’t contentious military action or questionable expenditure of resources – this is aid, pure and simple. It’s lives saved and countries rescued, and a possible global outbreak prevented.

The WHO, along with Doctors Without Borders, is clearly overwhelmed. Their doctors and medical staff are risking – and giving – their lives. Weakened by budget cuts and a limited number of health workers, the WHO cannot tackle this alone. Their problems are exacerbated by the feeble health care systems in the afflicted countries, and a reluctance among the infected to admit that they are sick.

The question isn’t whether the United States should take charge, it’s why they haven’t already.

As of Aug. 4, 31 members of the Center for Disease Control’s staff were deployed in West Africa, with an additional 50 disease control experts on the way. But a team of 81 people does not comprise a sufficient response to an epidemic involving more than 6,000 people and threatening millions more.

On Monday, the Pentagon announced that it was supplying Liberia, one of the nations hit hardest by the deadly disease, with a 25-bed hospital costing $22 million

But the WHO estimates that 980 additional beds are needed, not to mention trained personnel to staff them. But the Pentagon emphasizes that the United States would not be providing patient care, even as sick patients are turned away from clinics.

The countries affected by this outbreak simply don’t have the resources to address the needs of those infected, or prevent the epidemic from spreading. America and the international community at large have to step in.

If, inexplicably, the White House is not motivated by their ethical imperative, then self-preservation should stir them to action. A new study by PLOS Currents: Outbreaks suggests that there’s an 18 percent chance Ebola could reach the United States, and with every day that action is not taken, with every infected person left to wander the streets and spread their disease, the odds that this country is spared get worse.

The decision shouldn’t come to that. Morality, not fear, should be enough to convince our government to just do the right thing and take action. Americans have access to privileges, like health care and education, which much of the West African population can’t even imagine.

Now is the time to put that privilege to good use, and help instead of harm, for once.