The Senate invited several health experts,an Ebola survivor and a Sierra Leone health program manager to testify Tuesday before two Senate committees as the virus spreads at an accelerating rate throughout Western Africa.
The survivor,American doctor Kent Brantly,told the story of his sickness and urged the Senate to increase its commitment to fighting the epidemic.
“The number of cases continued to grow at an incredible rate,” he said. “It was clear that we were not equipped to handle this on our own.
“I came to understand firsthand what my patients endured. I faced the horror of vomiting blood.”
President Barack Obama visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Tuesday for a briefing on the outbreak. He also met with Brantley before the hearing.
The current Ebola outbreak is the most serious ever recorded,creating more cases and deaths than the 24 previous Ebola outbreaks combined,Anthony Fauci,director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease,said.
“We must take the Ebola epidemic as seriously as we take ISIS,” Sen. Lamar Alexander,R-Tenn.,said. “That’s not an overstatement.”
“We need to declare a war on Ebola,” Sen. Jerry Moran,R-Kan. said.
Sen. Tom Harkin,D-Iowa,asked the Senate to approve $88 million to combat the virus.
“If we do not deal with Ebola now,we could be dealing with it for years,” said Dr. Beth Bell,director of the National Center for Emerging Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the CDC.
Bell estimated the $30 million her organization could receive would last the center until early December.
Robin Robinson,director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority at the Department of Health and Human Services — an organization that researches and develops vaccines and medicines— estimated the $58 million his center could receive would last “through fall.”
If the additional $88 million in aid is approved,that will bring the United States’ total commitment to $250 million.
“This is the biggest crisis we have faced since the end of our civil war,” Sierra Leone resident Ishmeal Alfred Charles,who testified at the hearing,said. “As a former child soldier,I was able to survive the war,and now I fear this is going to be worse than the war.”
Charles is a program manager for the Healey International Relief Foundation in Freetown,Sierra Leone.
Another Smaratin’s Purse doctor treated at Emory University Hospital Atlanta has been released from the hospital,while the hospital continues to treat a third patient. The Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha reports that Dr. Rick Sacra is improving.
Despite the deadliness of Ebola — the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease lists it in the same category of as anthrax and smallpox — officials have maintained the virus does not pose a threat to the U.S.
“The best way to continue to protect our country from any domestic threat posed by Ebola is to take action to address the epidemic in Africa,” Robertson said.
A potential vaccine,ZMapp,has been promising in animals and has shown to have “anecdotal” effectiveness in humans,but still is not ready to be released as further testing is needed,Fauci said.
“These drugs can give patients hope for recovery,” Brantly said,while cautioning,“We cannot wait for a magic bullet to halt this virus … time to think outside the box.”
The virus spreads only through direct contact with bodily fluids or the bodies of those who have died from the virus,but some have worried about the possibility of the virus mutating into a more communicable form.
“It is an unusual situation where a mutation will completely change the way a virus is transmitted,but it is possible,” Fauci said. “A virus that doesn’t replicate cannot mutate.”
“Working with our partners,we have stopped every previous Ebola outbreak and we are determined to stop this one,” Bell said.
Reach reporter Lucas Daprile at 202-408-1490. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.