Washington: As the first patient diagnosed with Ebola on American soil, fights for his life in Dallas hospital, Barack Obama on Monday reiterated that the epidemic was a top national security priority and said that increased passenger screening would be conducted at airports to check the spread of the disease.
Obama however stopped short of imposing a travel ban on West African countries as it will “slow the fight against Ebola”.
According to the White House, a travel ban will hinder the transport of supplies and personnel to the hardest-hit countries in West Africa.
Obama met top health, homeland security, and national security advisors yesterday afternoon to review the United States' response to the Ebola epidemic and discussed broader preparedness plans, that included a enhanced airport screening in the United States as well as at the source countries in West Africa.
In addition to the existing protocols in wake of Ebola threat, the US is “also going to be working on protocols to do additional passenger screening, both at the source and here in the United States," said Obama after he was briefed by health officials on Ebola.
‘‘I know that the American people are concerned about the possibility of a Ebola outbreak,’’ Obama said at the White House, adding, ‘‘Procedures are now in place to rapidly evaluate anybody who might be showing symptoms.’’
Obama reiterated that Ebola is “a top national security priority” for the US and “not just a matter of charity”.
Stressing how Ebola threatens the safety of Americans, Obama said it was very important to treat Ebola as any other “national security threat”.
“And that’s why we’ve got an all-hands-on-deck approach -- from DOD to public health to our development assistance, our science teams -- everybody is putting in time and effort to make sure that we are addressing this as aggressively as possible," Obama said.
Exit screening measures at the airports in West African countries are routinely implemented in the affected West African countries, and US government personnel have worked closely with local authorities to implement these measures.
According to the screening procedures, if a person has a fever above 101.5 or is suspected to be ill, the passenger will be taken aside for a more detailed health assessment – a secondary screening - to determine if he or she should be isolated.
— Department of State (@StateDept) October 7, 2014
The US has launched a civilian-led whole-of-government effort in West Africa to rein in the epidemic, also roping in US military, deploying troops there to oversee the measures taken to tackle the disease.
The United States has shelled out $350 million toward fighting the outbreak in West Africa, including more than $111 million in humanitarian aid, and the Department of Defense (DoD) has committed to spend over $1 billion to the whole-of-government Ebola response effort.
Fresh remarks from Obama come as the first US patient diagnosed on American soil, Thomas Eric Duncan, remains critical. He came to New York via Brussels and Washington after helping an Ebola patient in Liberia.