US withdrawing most troops fighting Ebola in West Africa

U.S. Army Ebola Liberia
A member of the U.S army walks past a newly constructed Ebola treatment centre in Bongcounty, on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, Oct. 7, 2014. (Abbas Duller/AP Photo)

BY JOSH LEDERMAN
ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is preparing to withdraw nearly all of its troops fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the White House said Tuesday, as the global health crisis recedes amid a sharp decline in Ebola cases.

Of the 2,800 troops the U.S. deployed, just 100 will remain in West Africa after April 30, officials said. About 1,500 of those troops have already returned home. Those staying in West Africa will work with Liberia’s military, regional partners and U.S. civilians to continue fighting Ebola.

“Just 10 months since the first U.S. government personnel deployed, we have delivered extraordinary results,” said U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah, adding that Ebola cases were down 80 percent and that in hard-hit Liberia, new cases have dwindled to just one or two per day.

President Barack Obama was to announce the withdrawal and outline the next steps the U.S. plans to take on Ebola at an event Wednesday at the White House. The move comes as Ron Klain, who led Obama’s Ebola response and was informally dubbed the “Ebola czar,” wraps up his work. The White House said Klain debriefed Obama as the Ebola response enters a new phase.

The Pentagon said all returning troops will undergo “established controlled monitoring procedures” to ensure they have not contracted Ebola.

While careful not to declare the crisis over, the White House touted declining Ebola cases as a sign that U.S. and global efforts had paid off. Officials said the U.S. helped build 15 Ebola treatment units, trained more than 1,500 health workers and coaxed the world community into contributing more than $2 billion to Ebola efforts.

The worst Ebola outbreak in world history has killed almost 9,000 people, and the World Health Organization has warned it will be challenging to bring cases to zero. The outbreak is expected to cost the three most-affected countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – at least $1.6 billion in lost economic growth.

Obama faced intense initial criticism over his administration’s Ebola response, particularly after health workers contracted the virus at a Texas hospital while treating a patient that had been infected in Africa. The U.S. tightened policies at home and dedicated a surge in resources to West Africa to address the epidemic.

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