CAPITOL HILL – The administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Rajiv Shah and other senior U.S. officials testified before a congressional panel Thursday about the international reaction to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Shah called on Congress to approve President Obama’s request for $6.2 billion in emergency funding to combat the deadly disease.
As the suffering in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea continues, with some 3,000 active cases of Ebola reported now, the House Foreign Affairs Committee praised the U.S. response to the crisis. But some lawmakers accused the World Health Organization of incompetence, including Ed Royce, the Republican committee chairman.
He warned that the world still has a lot to do.
“What has worked in the past to block Ebola obviously is breaking the chain of transmission. But without us doing that, Ebola will continue to spill across borders, and economies will be devastated in Africa, governments will fail, tens of thousands will die,” said Royce.
Most members said they support providing the emergency funding the Obama administration is asking for, and also called on countries around the world to step up their efforts. Ranking member Democrat Eliot Engel:
“As I have said, the U.S. cannot meet this challenge alone. Ebola is a global challenge requiring a global response. Fortunately, international efforts to control the epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have increased both in terms of financial support and on-the-ground assistance.” said Engel.
USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said he had met with 65 burial teams on his recent visit to Liberia, and that these efforts are really helping to bring down the number of new infections in that country.
He said the U.S. is also reviewing new options for protective suits for health care workers, because they are at greatest risk of contracting the virus when taking off the protective gear.
But Shah rejected calls from Royce and others for a travel ban on people from the most-affected countries.
“And I think we are convinced that America is the signal decision-maker. If we isolate these countries, the rest of the world will isolate these countries, and that will create a much different epidemic curve. And we will all have to come back here and discuss how are we going to handle many, many additional cases than what we are looking at now,” said Shah.
Shah said the international community should also be prepared for the Ebola outbreak to be followed by a hunger crisis in the region and get ready to provide quick relief.