As the body count in Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak continues to rise, some say the time has come for the U.S. military to step in.
“The U.S. Military is uniquely poised to help with this disease,” says Timothy Flanigan, an infectious disease researcher at Brown University who’s volunteering in Liberia, the country hardest hit by Ebola. “We’ve trained for it, we’ve got the logistics, we’ve got the support and we have the matériel.”
The Department of Defense runs a sophisticated health service for its own troops. Its staff includes infectious disease experts, doctors and nurses. It can set up massive field hospitals almost anywhere. On top of that, the military can do logistics like no other: It can move fuel, food and supplies en masse.
“Our deployable medical capabilities are generally trauma medicine, treating people who suffer wounds in combat and things of that nature,” says Michael Lumpkin, the assistant secretary of defense in charge of Ebola response. “That’s not necessarily what they’re dealing with there.”
Until recently, many charities working in the region didn’t want military involvement. But as the outbreak grows worse, aid groups feel they have to take a chance. “I think what we’ve already seen is a sea change in the receptiveness of many international health workers to military engagement,” Julie Fischer, a public health expert at George Washington University says.
Doctors Without Borders, which has clinics throughout the region, is now asking for military support. In neighboring Sierra Leone, the British Military is planning to set up and run a 62-bed facility. That work is being done in coordination with the charity Save the Children.