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Why It Makes Sense to Send the US Military to Fight Ebola in Africa

The military may have capabilities others do not

(LUC GNAGO/Reuters/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

The U.S. military is launching a massive effort to counter the Ebola outbreak coursing through western Africa. More than 3,000 troops will be sent to the region to set up a command-and-control center, coordinate efforts, build hospitals, train health workers and bolster the flow of supplies, says the Washington Post

As President Obama noted yesterday, Ebola is spreading exponentially, with the rate of infection growing faster and faster. “Since the virus was discovered, no Ebola outbreak’s toll has risen above several hundred cases,” says health reporter Maryn McKenna at Wired. “This now truly is a type of epidemic that the world has never seen before.” A much larger effort is needed to wrest control over the epidemic, says Policy Mic.

It's not immediately clear why the U.S. military should be part of that effort. The scope and scale of this mission, after all, “is unprecedented as a public-health operation led by the U.S. military,” says policy analyst Stephen Morrison to the Wall Street Journal.

Despite the seemingly odd fit, the U.S. military may actually be the right people for the job, says the Journal:

The operation will require the military to fuse its experience in responding to natural disasters with its training in biowarfare to minimize the risks of Americans contracting the disease. Personnel will bring medical assistance and training, logistical expertise and engineering experience to set up 17 field hospitals with 100 beds each, more than tripling current capacity.

"The U.S. military, with its enormous logistical capability, extensive air operations, and highly skilled medical corps, could address gaps in the response quickly," says the Washington Post

Having troops on the ground could also be useful given that Nigeria, one of the countries affected by the ongoing Ebola epidemic, is also facing pressure from the Boko Haram terrorist organization.

The military might even be able to provide a special set of skills that would be foreign to most healthcare workers.

One of the problems plaguing efforts to fight the Ebola outbreak has been a lack information. Not all cases are reported, and the disease can spread outside of the watchful eye of emergency managers. According to Fast Company, data assimilation techniques that have been previously used by the military to track terrorists could be turned on the epidemic.

The mission is expected to cost $750 million over the next six months, an even bigger effort than the one the World Health Organization called for in August, though smaller than the $987 million figure the U.N. cited this week.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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