The U.S. is sending $1 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development to fight the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a USAID spokesman told HuffPost Friday.
The U.S. funding will join the less than $9 million contributed so far by the World Health Organization’s Contingency Fund for Emergencies, The Wellcome Trust, the U.K., the United Nations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
A spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council added that more funding announcements will be made in the next week.
The WHO estimates the current Ebola outbreak ― in which there have been 45 confirmed, probable and suspected cases and 25 deaths so far ― will cost about $26 million to contain. In contrast, the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which killed more than 11,300 people and infected 28,000, cost $3.6 billion to fight.
“The really big deal is that it’s symbolic that the American government is trying to play a helpful role,” Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told HuffPost. “I think a real question under this administration has been what role they will play in these outbreaks. I am really pleased to see USAID starting down this path.”
Jha added that he was hopeful the U.S. government will continue to stay at the forefront of global health security, both financially and with its technical expertise.
Ronald Klain, the Ebola czar under President Barack Obama, argued for a bit of caution about the news. “It’s a positive step but a small one, meaning the U.S. is leaving it to other countries to lead this response,” he told HuffPost. “That could be shortsighted both in terms of global health and U.S. influence in Africa.”
USAID has also sent 2,000 personal protective equipment kits and two mobile labs to the outbreak area, as well as the staff of its 28-person Congo office.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has similarly deployed the 26-person staff from its Congo office ― 18 of whom are from the country ― to the outbreak locations. The CDC also sent an epidemiological lead and a safety expert to the country. A senior Ebola expert is departing for the DRC shortly, and the agency has offered “technical expert assistance for surveillance, laboratory diagnosis, infection control, border health screening, health communication, vaccinations and emergency response management,” a National Security Council spokesperson told HuffPost Wednesday.
This latest U.S. response comes amid a growing concern among health experts about the role of the Trump administration when it comes to global health security.
The day the Ebola outbreak was announced last week, Rear Adm. Tim Ziemer, the head of global health security on the National Security Council, left the Trump administration after his directorate office was disbanded. President Donald Trump also proposed to cut leftover Ebola funds from the devastating 2014 outbreak last week.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have requested answers from the White House about Ziemer’s departure, as have Reps. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who are members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Forcing out some of our nation’s most respected leaders on global health security and scaling back our investment in countering pandemic threats sends a dangerous message to our GHSA [Global Health Security Agenda] partner countries that the U.S. no longer considers global health security a priority,” the congressmen wrote.
Jeremy Konyndyk, who led parts of the 2014 Ebola response for the Obama administration, told HuffPost the dissolution of the global health security directorate is concerning. Konyndyk is now a senior policy fellow for the Washington-based Center for Global Development.
“Going from a senior director lead to a director-level lead on the NSC matters,” Konyndyk said. “Senior directors carry more weight with Cabinet officials and have better access to the president and national security adviser ― both important factors in ensuring the White House stays on top of health crises.”
Loyce Pace, the president and executive director of the Global Health Council, a membership organization that lobbies for global health priorities, argued that the USAID donation signaled a possible shift, all the more important considering the timing of the World Health Assembly next week.
“We were all a bit anxious if not discouraged ― related to the rescission and Ziemer’s departure,” Pace told HuffPost. “But I think this is a great sign and a good show of support that I hope that the U.S. will maintain its commitment to global health security ― not just in terms of this outbreak but in terms of the staying power in this space.”