Three thousand troops are to be deployed to Liberia to help fight the deadly outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. Right now 350 US troops are already in Liberia assessing the situation and the building plans. Yesterday 60 troops left from Fort Eustis after their deployment ceremony. Gradually, other specialized units will be deployed as well. Part of the 101st Airborne unit will deploy to Monrovia. Monrovia is the capital of Liberia and is home to 25% of Liberia’s population with an estimated 1.1 million people. The 101st is setting up headquarters there. It has been argued within the media whether or not troops will be equipped with hazmat suits and when or if they’re going to get them. Col. Brian Desantis of Fort Campbell has said troops will get equipment upon arrival in Liberia. Colonel Desantis also said that troops will not be handling medical waste or human remains. I pray this is true and I pray that they have all the protection and support in the world. Yet, like anyone else I am concerned. The 101st is not only setting up HQ in the most densely populated area in the country but also in an area with the highest death rate due to Ebola.
Ebola is not the only disease that concerns medical and Pentagon officials. Africa is rampant with Malaria. Malaria does not have a cure or a vaccine. Only the symptoms of this diseasse can be treated. There are also other diseases such as the water born disease cholera which adds and accelerates the sanitation problem and spread of disease. Although Ebola has not been directly connected to sanitation issues the indirect connection is in the poor hygiene practices of the Liberian people. The Ebola outbreak compounded by poor hygiene, a serious sanitation crisis, and the lingering effects of a civil war can pose a much larger and daunting task for our troops in fighting Ebola and sending Liberia on the road to recovery.
It was recently posted in a Liberian paper about the sanitation issue and the piles of trash in the streets and the suburbs of Monrovia. People are walking through these heaps that are full of medical waste not to mention other things. The garbage and waste has created serious problems with their water drainage as well. So not only do our troops have to deal with Ebola itself but a country that for many reasons, has been steeped in crisis after crisis. Liberia’s problem with sanitation and medical waste dumped randomly anywhere goes back years. The need for sterilization and containment may be a nightmare for our troops and all other countries that join in this battle against Ebola. We will be fighting Ebola and much more and the mission may extend as needed. I can't see how it cannot given the task at hand.
I’m not a doctor and I don’t even pretend to play one on this fine site but our troops are in for an uphill climb and one wonders what we really know about Ebola and how it can be spread. I am not a dooms sayer nor a negative person but given the ever changing info of the Ebola cases in the United States .. I have my misgivings about what’s ahead for our troops. If our military is not to handle medical waste or remains as has been reported, then the removal of disease causing waste must be properly handled by who? It was reported that one person infected with the Ebola virus creates eight 55 gallon drums of waste. We will be battling a variety of problems in this disease ridden and poverty stricken country. The problems will be logistical, medical, and cultural. When I was in Somalia the mission started off as a humanitarian mission and then turned into something very different. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen in Liberia. This is not a fight against an opposing army where we can track troop movements and spot the enemy from a satellite. This is a situation where our troops are fighting a microscopic disease that travels through thousands of Liberians that know of no life or conditions other than what they’ve been living in. Fighting and containing this disease will be hard enough. Changing a culture and the way Liberian’s handle disease, sanitation, and hygiene in the future is another. Fighting this disease in these conditions is a task of enormous proportions for our troops. I believe that we are headed for a much tougher task than we're told. It’s a new kind of danger to say the least. We can only hope and pray that true science and extreme caution will bring our troops home safe and well in this looming uncertainty.