By Stephen Dinan – The Washington Times – Updated: 8:13 p.m. on Tuesday, October 28, 2014
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 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.
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 the pandemic must be stopped over there. 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 they would prefer patients go to Europe, but there are some cases where the U.S. is “the logical treatment destination for non-citizens.”
The document has been shared with Congress, where lawmakers were already nervous over the administration’s handling of the Ebola outbreak. The memo even details expected price per patient, saying transport costs come to $200,000 and treatment is estimated at $300,000 per case.
A State Department official denied there are plans to bring non-citizen patients to the U.S., saying instead that officials are considering using American aircraft equipped to handle Ebola cases to transport non-citizens to other countries, but “there are absolutely no plans to medevac non-Americans” to the U.S.
“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 department official said in a statement. “But we are not contemplating bringing them back to the U.S. for treatment. Allegations to the contrary are completely false.”
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 in his desire to recruit medical and aide workers to fight the disease 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. aide 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.”
More than 10,000 people have contracted Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, with about half of those cases proving fatal.
Four cases have been diagnosed in the U.S. — and three of those were health workers who were trying to aid infected patients. Two of those, both nurses at a Dallas hospital, have been cured.
In addition, the U.S. has treated several American aide workers who contracted the disease overseas but who were flown here for treatment.
The U.N. and World Health Organization are also heavily involved in deploying to the affected region, but other countries have been slower to pony up their own 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 the disease.
Officials would prefer European nations step up because it is closer to West Africa, making transport easier, the State Department memo said. But officials said there are some cases where the U.S. is the right choice — notably where non-Americans are contracted to work in West Africa for U.S.-based charities, the Centers for Disease Control 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 court of their work they would need to be evacuated to medical facilities in the United States or Europe.”
The memo says the State Department already has a contract in place with Phoenix Aviation, which maintains an airplane capable of transporting an Ebola patient. The U.S. can transport non-citizens and have other countries or organizations pay for the cost.
The U.S. has already helped three health workers be sent 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 patients.
According to the memo, Homeland Security officials would be required to waive restrictions in U.S. law to speed the 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 reads.
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 earlier in October. 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 the 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.”
After those initial reports surfaced, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte had 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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