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Obama to ramp up US response to Ebola

Mission will include 3,000 US military personnel and provide humanitarian support and training for health care workers

The United States will ramp up its response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, with plans to build 17 treatment centers, train thousands of health care workers and establish a military control center for coordination with some 3,000 troops, U.S. officials said.

President Barack Obama will announce further details of the plan on Tuesday, senior administration officials told reporters.

He has called the epidemic a security crisis but has faced criticism for not doing more to stem the outbreak, which the World Health Organization (WHO) said last week has killed more than 2,400 people out of 4,784 cases in West Africa.

The president was set to visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta on Tuesday to show his commitment to the issue. The stepped-up effort will include some 3,000 military personnel and a joint forces command center in Monrovia, Liberia — one of the hardest-hit areas — to coordinate efforts between the U.S. government and international partners.

The plan will "ensure that the entire international response effort is more effective and helps to scale up to turn the tide in this crisis," a senior administration official told reporters Monday, ahead of the president's trip.

"The significant expansion that the president will detail ... really represents a set of areas where the U.S. military will bring unique capabilities that we believe will improve the effectiveness of the entire global response," he said.

The treatment centers will have 100 beds each and be built as soon as possible, an official said.

The U.S. plan also focuses on training. A site will be established where military medical personnel will teach some 500 health care workers per week for six months or more how to provide care to Ebola patients, officials said.

Robert Tauxe, deputy director at the CDC’s Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, told Al Jazeera in an interview last month that he was planning to set up training courses in the U.S. to help alleviate the acute shortfall of field staff. “The scale [of the epidemic] is just too big," he said.

The Ebola outbreak has taken an unprecedented toll on health care workers, who lack experience dealing with the deadly virus and are forced to work under extreme stress. Many treatment centers face shortages of protective equipment. More than 120 medical workers have died from the disease, and at least 240 have been infected, according to the WHO.

The organization estimates that the hardest-hit countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — need at least three to four times the number of medical and public health workers currently on the ground, or another 600 doctors to care for patients and 1,000 workers to track and test their contacts — the only way the disease can be controlled.

The Obama administration has requested an additional $88 million from Congress to fight Ebola, including $58 million to speed production of experimental antiviral drug ZMapp and two Ebola vaccine candidates.

Officials said the Department of Defense requested the reallocation of $500 million in funds from fiscal year 2014 to help cover the costs of the humanitarian mission.

Also, the U.S. Agency for International Development will support a program to distribute protection kits with sanitizers and medical supplies to 400,000 vulnerable households in Liberia.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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