Ebola is a ‘national security priority,’ Obama says

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama on Sunday signaled for the first time that he is likely to dispatch U.S. military resources to help fight the serious outbreak of Ebola in several countries in West Africa.

“We have to make this a national security priority. We have to mobilize the international community, get resources in there,” the President said to Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We’re going to have to get U.S. military assets just to set up, for example, isolation units and equipment there, to provide security for public health workers surging from around the world.”

Obama’s comments come after sharp criticism from Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, last week.

“States with the required capacity have a political and humanitarian responsibility to come forward and offer a desperately needed, concrete response to the disaster unfolding in front of the world’s eyes … rather than limit their response to the potential arrival of an infected patient in their countries,” Liu said.

Obama cautioned that inaction could have dire consequences.

“If we don’t make that effort now, and this spreads not just through Africa but other parts of the world, there’s the prospect then that the virus mutates. It becomes more easily transmittable. And then it could be a serious danger to the United States,” Obama said.

American Ebola survivor Dr. Keith Brantly pleaded for help from the international community in a recent op-ed for Time.

“The national governments of West Africa are overwhelmed,” Brantly said.

“This is a global problem, and it requires the action of national governments around the world.”

Obama echoed Brantly’s sentiments, arguing that U.S. leadership is necessary for a health crisis of this magnitude.

“When I go before Congress, and I say, ‘Let’s give some public health aid to countries like Liberia, so that they can set up hospitals and nurses and vaccinations, et cetera,’ you know, sometimes, you know, the American public says, ‘Why are we wasting money on them?’ ” Obama said, explaining, “When we make those short-term investments now, it really pays a lot of dividends in the future.”

The Ebola outbreak has been centered in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, with a handful of cases in Nigeria. The overall fatality rate is 50%, WHO said, ranging from 39% in Sierra Leone to 64% in Guinea, according to the latest figures.

Mariano Castillo and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

By Betsy Klein