House subcommittee holds hearing on Ebola threat

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations held a hearing called "Combating the Ebola Threat" on Thursday.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the hearing took place despite the House of Representatives not being in session last week. He asked multiple questions about how the outbreak has spread to more than 1,600 people and caused approximately 900 deaths in West Africa.

"What is different about this outbreak?" Royce said. "Why is it so virulent? Has there been a change in the epidemiology of the virus? If not, is it spreading because affected communities don't have the necessary information or capacity to deal with it? If it is a capacity issue, what can the international community do to help? What is the role of the World Health Organization, donors, and the United States government?"

Royce thanked the witnesses for appearing during the hearing, including Ariel Pablos-Mendez, the assistant administrator for global health for the U.S. Agency for International Development; Bisa Williams, the deputy assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs; and Ken Isaacs, the vice president of international programs and government relations for Samaritan's Purse, an international non-governmental organization.

Pablos-Mendez said the ebola outbreak is a reminder to the world of the lethal consequences of limited response capacities and disease surveillance in any country.

"The outbreak also reminds us that infectious diseases require prevention efforts and global vigilance, as they know no borders," Pablos-Mendez said. "It is a humanitarian imperative and national security necessity to contain the current Ebola outbreak as quickly as possible."

Williams suggested a three-step approach for the U.S., including diplomatic outreach and host government efforts, protection of U.S. citizens and the safety of the chief of mission personnel.

Isaacs said the ministries of health of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are well-intentioned but ill-equipped.

"There needs to be an immediate global coordination which allows the temporary transfer of authority of the national ministries of health to an entity to oversee the regional health crisis in order to save lives and stop the international spread of disease," Isaacs said. "The entity to lead that coordination must be nimble, effective, resourced, and solely focused on managing the fight against the disease. I know of no such entity that exists today."