The commander of the U.S. military response mission offering relief to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, Gen. David M. Rodriquez, gave a mission update on Tuesday. The Pentagon has dispatched up to 4,000 soldiers to the region with the original objective training local health care workers to treat Ebola but did not indicate any direct treatment of Ebola victims. However the mission, which features the operation of mobile medical labs, could come in contact with Ebola patients. Pentagon officials later noted that military technicians will only be testing specimen samples from suspected Ebola victims.
Here is a selection of press questions and responses from Gen. Rodriquez on the treatment of Ebola patients:
Question: Will any U.S. military personnel be involved in the direct treatment of any Ebola patients or in the training that health care givers — will they be — come into contact with any Ebola patients?
Gen. Rodriquez: No. Now, the mobile labs are different. But not for the majority of the force. The mobile are testing people, OK? And some of them will have the Ebola virus. Now, those are trained at the highest level of something like nuclear, biological and chemical. So they’re all trained at a very, very high level. And they’ve been — the one from Walter Reed has been operating there for many years, for example. And the two that we just deployed meet those standards of training.
Question: … do you have enough of the personal protective equipment that you need? Or is there a shortage of that? And have you stockpiled any of this ZMapp, the treatment that was given to the two missionaries that had been proven in case troops are exposed to the virus?
Gen. Rodriquez: … on the virus (treatment), we do not have that stockpiled. And right now, that is — you’ll have to get the expert opinion of the CDC, but that’s still to be determined whether it’s effective or not, and they have a date in the future when it — they may be able to tell whether it’s effective or not, so we are not stockpiling that. And last, we have sufficient personnel protective equipment for ourselves, and we will continue to make sure that that’s the way throughout the process.
Question: And so we’ve been told repeatedly up to this point from this podium that, in fact, servicemembers are not going to come in contact with patients, and now we’re being told that that’s changing.
Gen. Rodriquez: The lab — the labs are a separate specialty element of the force. So that’s — that’s probably where that has come. As far as the general population, they won’t be coming in contact. These are — like I said, these labs are trained to a specialty skill — level four, it’s called — but the bottom line, it’s the highest level. I mean, they can operate in a nuclear, biological and chemical environment. They are specifically trained to do that, and that’s their primary skill set, OK?
And we had one in there that has been operating for several years in the country that works on infectious diseases. We have the — both the Navy and the Army have medical labs in many countries doing just that, to monitor these things. OK?