Should the Military Treat Ebola Patients in Africa?

US Marines arrive in Monrovia to provide support to Liberians in the fight against Ebola.US-AFRICOM


At the request of the Liberian government, American troops have set up shop in the country to help deliver aid and build treatment centers. It’s all part of an effort to slow the disease’s spread and, hopefully, mitigate some of the outbreak’s more pernicious side effects, such as hunger.

So far, US military doctors and nurses are not actually treating patients. But three members of Congress—Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) believe they should be.  

“Our capable military medical and technical personnel have unique skills, resources, and experience working in similar environments to West Africa,” the three wrote in a letter to President Obama. “They responded to the Cholera outbreak after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and the aftermath of the tsunami in Indonesia. We must stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and protect Americans from the spread of the virus.”

Pentagon officials have said that US troops will be proving logistical support and that there are no current plans for them to provide direct care. “We are not anticipating that military personnel will be treating the people,” General David Rodriguez, head of the military’s Africa Command, said at an October 3 press briefing. “There’s no intention right now that [service members] will be interacting with patients or in areas where they would necessarily come into contact with patients.”

Still, Rodriguez left open the possibility of military doctors treating patients at a later date. “That will be a decision made in the future if that ever gets to that point,” he said. “But the international community has said ‘Not right now. That’s not what we need.'”

Ebola would certainly present a risk for any military personnel treating patients. Of the more than 4,000 people who have been infected in Liberia so far, 207 have been health care workers, according to Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare

The Marines are already warning their personnel to take precautions, even though they’re not currently working with patients. “You must be aware of the risks,” the Corps’ top doctor says in an instructional video. “Understand what to do if you come into contact with someone suspected of having Ebola, and what to do if you become ill.”

Many conservatives were outraged that Obama sent troops to help fight Ebola. Chances are, a sick service member would give new life to that debate.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.