U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday pledged a “much more aggressive” response at home to the Ebola threat, and insisted that the risk of a serious outbreak on U.S. soil was low.
After a crisis meeting with top aides at the White House, Obama underlined the importance of helping African countries stem the spread of the virus, calling such aid “an investment in our own public health.”
“If we are not responding internationally in an effective way… then we could have problems,” Obama said in comments aired on U.S. television.
The meeting — attended by Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, among others — came after a second U.S. Ebola infection was diagnosed at a Texas hospital where a Liberian man died a week ago.
Obama said meeting participants discussed “monitoring, supervising, overseeing in a much more aggressive way exactly what’s taking place in Dallas” to ensure those lessons are “transmitted to hospitals and clinics all across the country.”
“This is not a situation in which, like a flu, the risks of a rapid spread of the disease are imminent,” Obama said, adding he “shook hands with, hugged and kissed” nurses who had treated an Ebola patient at Emory University hospital in Atlanta.
“They followed the protocols. They knew what they were doing and I felt perfectly safe doing so,” he said.
“I am absolutely confident that we can prevent a serious outbreak of the disease here in the United States… The key thing to understand about this disease is that these protocols work.”
So far, Ebola has killed nearly 4,500 people, the vast majority of them in West Africa, where the outbreak began early this year.
Since the announcement last month that the United States would send at least 3,000 troops to West Africa to help fight the outbreak, Obama has repeatedly criticized the international response to the health crisis as insufficient.