- - Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Armies, which by definition are organized to kill people and break things, aren’t ordinarily used to build and preserve. But these are not ordinary times. Some wild and crazy things are being said about the Ebola pandemic and its implications for the world, but it must be stopped, and only the United States can lead in stopping it.

President Obama warns that the Ebola virus could infect hundreds of thousands of people on what was once called “the dark continent,” and it would have enormous security implications. He took the wise precaution of saying that the chance of a spread to the United States is “extremely low.” Concern is wise; panic is not.

The president for once did not draw another red line, as if telling the virus itself that it must stay out of North America, but observed correctly that the threat to global security, with the globe’s interlocking economies and security concerns, is real if the countries where the virus has struck hardest — Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea — break apart under the stress of an emergency they are unable to deal with.

The 3,000 troops the president has ordered to Africa are uniquely qualified to make the first dent in the epidemic, taking logistics, training and engineering skills to quickly set up 17 field hospitals with 100 beds each. This is far from all that’s needed, but it’s a start. “This is unprecedented as a public-health operation led by the U.S. military,” Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, tells The Wall Street Journal. In addition, Mr. Obama deployed 100 doctors, nurses and researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to West Africa.

Others are helping. The United Nations says $200 million has been contributed for Ebola relief since September, and more is on the way. China has dispatched a mobile-laboratory team of 60 doctors and nurses to Sierra Leone. For once, there seems to be no partisan divide in Congress in doing what must be done. Both Rep. John A. Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, have promised full cooperation with the administration (and so far, neither the president nor Sen. Harry Reid has said wicked things about the Republicans (though Rep. Nancy Pelosi did say, in another context, that Republicans might be “the end of civilization as we know it”).

Something as fearful as a rampant, horrific disease invites panic. One health official predicts that Ebola could eventually kill 20 million. “Could” is rarely the same as “would” but is sometimes the equivalent of “should.” So far in Africa, where health practices in some countries range from primeval to awful, the World Health Organization counts 4,963 cases, of whom 2,453 have died. This is a fatality rate of 50 percent, far below the 95 percent counted in the remote villages in the early weeks of the pandemic. The death rate would likely be far less than 50 percent among patients with adequate care. In the villages of the back country where ignorance reigns and clean water is rare, many who care for patients rarely even wash their hands.

Mr. Obama’s dispatch of help is a good start, but it’s only a start. Stamping out Ebola, or even controlling it, is a job for many nations. But America, as it usually does, leads the way, and the brave men and women on the front deserve our gratitude, our support and our prayers.

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