This week, as we mark one year since the Ebola outbreak began to ravage West Africa, it is an appropriate moment to not only mark the progress we have made combatting this disease, but also to underscore how much more we must do to finally end this epidemic.
Since its launch in March 2014, the U.S. Ebola response has deployed more than 3,500 U.S. government personnel to the affected region. These Americans include personnel from the Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the National Institutes of Health.
As a result of American leadership responding to this outbreak – along with international partners, non-governmental organizations, international responders, and others – we have helped bend the epidemiological curve. This week, for example, we saw only 79 new cases in the region, down from over 1,000 new suspected, probable, and confirmed cases per week at the height of the epidemic.
These numbers, while evidence of our progress, also highlight that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is far from over. Its exponential growth has been stopped, but more work remains. And we are not going to stop fighting it until we get there.
As the President said last month, “Our focus now is getting to zero. Because as long as there is even one case of Ebola that’s active out there, risks still exist. Every case is an ember that, if not contained, can light a new fire. So we’re shifting our focus from fighting the epidemic to now extinguishing it.”
With leadership from CDC and USAID and support from Congress, we continue our key interventions including case identification, tracing the contacts of every case, finding and stopping all chains of transmission, and health care infection control.
And even as we draw down our military presence in Liberia, we have ramped up our civilian response with over 10,000 U.S. supported civilians engaged in this effort. In Sierra Leone and Guinea, our aggressive efforts to assist will continue in partnership with the host nations, the United Kingdom, France, and the United Nations. And in Liberia, after nearly a month without a new case, the March 20 announcement of a new positive case is a sober reminder that a country must go a full 42 days without a case to truly be at zero. That’s our goal and we will not relent until we achieve it.
Amy Pope is the Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and Ebola Response Coordinator.