State Department plans to bring foreign Ebola patients to U.S.

28 Oct

STATE DEPARTMENT DOCUMENT REVEALS PLANS

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The State Department has quietly made plans to bring Ebola-infected doctors and medical aides to the U.S. for treatment, according to an internal department document that argued the only way to get other countries to send medical teams to West Africa is to promise that the U.S. will be the world’s medical backstop.

Some countries “are implicitly or explicitly waiting for medevac assurances” before they will agree to send their own medical teams to join U.S. and U.N. aid workers on the ground, the State Department argues in the undated four-page memo, which was reviewed by The Washington Times.

“The United States needs to show leadership and act as we are asking others to act by admitting certain non-citizens into the country for medical treatment for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) during the Ebola crisis,” says the four-page memo, which lists as its author Robert Sorenson, deputy director of the office of international health and biodefense.

More than 10,000 people have become infected with Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and the U.S. has taken a lead role in arguing that the outbreak must be stopped in West Africa. President Obama has committed thousands of U.S. troops and has deployed American medical personnel, but other countries have been slow to follow.

In the memo, officials say their preference is for patients go to Europe, but there are some cases in which the U.S. is “the logical treatment destination for non-citizens.”

The document has been shared with Congress, where lawmakers already are nervous about the administration’s handling of the Ebola outbreak. The memo even details the expected price per patient, with transportation costs at $200,000 and treatment at $300,000.

A State Department official signaled Tuesday evening that the discussions had been shelved.

“There is no policy of the U.S. government to allow entry of non-U.S. citizen Ebola-infected to the United States. There is no consideration in the State Department of changing that policy,” the official said.

Another official said the department is considering using American aircraft equipped to handle Ebola cases to transport noncitizens to other countries.

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“We have discussed allowing other countries to use our medevac capabilities to evacuate their own citizens to their home countries or third-countries, subject to reimbursement and availability,” the second department official said.

The internal State Department memo is described as “sensitive but unclassified.” A tracking sheet attached to it says it was cleared by offices of the deputy secretary, the deputy secretary for management, the office of Central African affairs and the medical services office.

A call to the number listed for Mr. Sorenson wasn’t returned Tuesday.

Mr. Obama has been clear about his desire to recruit medical and aid workers to fight Ebola in Africa.

“We know that the best way to protect Americans ultimately is going to stop this outbreak at the source,” the president said at the White House on Tuesday, praising U.S. aid workers who are already involved in the effort. “No other nation is doing as much to make sure that we contain and ultimately eliminate this outbreak than America.”

About half of the more than 10,000 cases in West Africa have been fatal.

Four cases have been diagnosed in the U.S., and three of those were health care workers treating infected patients. Two of those, both nurses at a Dallas hospital, have been cured.

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Several American aid workers who contracted the disease overseas were flown to the U.S. for treatment.

The United Nations and World Health Organization are also heavily involved in deploying to the affected region, but other countries have been slower to provide resources to fight Ebola in West Africa or to agree to treat workers who contract the disease.

The State Department memo says only Germany has agreed to take non-German citizens who contract Ebola.

European nations are closer to West Africa, making transport easier, the State Department memo said.

Officials said the U.S. is the right place to treat some cases, notably those in which non-Americans are contracted to work in West Africa for U.S.-based charities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“So far all of the Ebola medevacs brought back to U.S. hospitals have been U.S. citizens. But there are many non-citizens working for U.S. government agencies and organizations in the Ebola-affected countries of West Africa,” the memo says. “Many of them are citizens of countries lacking adequate medical care, and if they contracted Ebola in the course of their work they would need to be evacuated to medical facilities in the United States or Europe.”

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The memo says the State Department has a contract with Phoenix Aviation, which maintains an airplane capable of transporting an Ebola patient. The U.S. can transport noncitizens and have other countries or organizations pay the cost.

The U.S. has helped transport three health care workers to Germany and one to France.

In the U.S., the department memo lists three hospitals — the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Emory University Hospital in Atlanta — that are willing to take Ebola patients.

According to the memo, Homeland Security Department officials would be required to waive legal restrictions to speed the transport of patients into the U.S. “A pre-established framework would be essential to guarantee that only authorized individuals would be considered for travel authorization and that all necessary vetting would occur,” the memo says.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman didn’t return emails seeking comment.

Judicial Watch, a conservative-leaning public interest watchdog, revealed the existence of a State Department plan this month. When The Times described the document to Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch’s president, he said it is evidence of why the administration balked at adopting a travel ban on those from affected countries.

“Under this theory, there could be people moving here now, transporting people here now, and it could be done with no warning,” Mr. Fitton said. “If our borders mean anything, it is the ability to make sure that dire threats to the public health are kept out.”

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After those initial reports surfaced, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, sent a letter asking for answers. On Tuesday, he said the document The Times obtained “raises more concerns and questions than answers.”

“President Obama should be forthcoming with the American people about the scope of his plan to bring non-U.S. citizens infected with Ebola to the United States for treatment,” Mr. Goodlatte said in a statement.

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