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In West Africa, U.S. Efforts In Ebola Response Start To Move Forward


And we start this hour hearing about how the U.S. is doing on commitments it made to help combat the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Three weeks ago President Obama outlined a response including treatment centers and the deployment of thousands of U.S. troops. In a moment, the head of the CDC gives us his assessment.

First, we go to NPR's Jason Beaubien in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. He says U.S. efforts face challenges but are moving forward.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Near the Monrovia airport, a yellow earth-mover is transforming what used to be an overgrown field into the gravel foundation for an American field hospital. This is the first of 18 Ebola treatment facilities promised by the Obama administration to help combat the epidemic. Construction began here two weeks ago, and this week the site was still being leveled by the U.S. Navy construction corps.

TIMOTHY DANDRIDGE: I'm Petty Officer Second Class Timothy Dandridge from New Orleans, Louisiana.

BEAUBIEN: Dandridge says there have been delays due to equipment breakdowns and issues with the quality of the gravel provided by local contractors.

DANDRIDGE: The weather also, sir - we seem to have caught the end of the rain season.

BEAUBIEN: Torrential rains come down in sheets here at some point every day, turning the landscape into tire-sucking brown mud. Despite the challenges, Dandridge says work on this hospital and the tents should be finished in roughly 10 days. This 25-bed facility will exclusively be used to treat healthcare workers who get infected with the virus.

As many as 4,000 U.S. troops could be deployed for the effort against Ebola in Liberia, according to the Pentagon. Currently just a fraction of them, 256, have arrived. Colonel Tory Scott, the head of U.S. military operations in Liberia, says these troops are laying the groundwork for the rest of the mission, which he cautions can't be rushed.

TORY SCOTT: You want to make sure that you set a good foundation for anything that you're going to build here, both physically and philosophically. This is a sovereign nation, so the Liberians get a vote in the things that we do. So we don't just go out and arbitrarily say we want to do this on Tuesday day and start moving towards it.

BEAUBIEN: Colonel Scott says the tropical downpours, rugged terrain, and dilapidated infrastructure all have slowed things down, but he says things are moving forward. The American troops just broke ground on a second Ebola treatment center. He says it will take 60 to 90 days to get the rest of the promised U.S. centers all built. The Navy has set up two new mobile laboratories to test blood samples for Ebola.

And the U.S. effort isn't just coming from the military. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more than a hundred staff deployed to the region. USAID is helping the United Nations build a 300-bed Ebola treatment center. It's almost finished near central Monrovia. Ben Hemingway is with USAID's Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team.

BEN HEMINGWAY: We're seeing new beds come online every day. The message is getting out. There's true momentum behind this process now.

BEAUBIEN: And for this country, which has been the hardest hit so far in the worst Ebola outbreak ever recorded, that momentum is crucial. Doctor Gabriel Logan, who runs a government hospital in Bomi County, says Liberia needs the international community in order to get this epidemic under control.

GABRIEL LOGAN: Whatever you guys can do outside of Liberia to help us, it is about time to help. Don't wait until we are all dead before you come in.

BEAUBIEN: Because, he says, there's still a lot of work to do. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Liberia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.