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On Ebola, As NY Analogizes Doctors to Soldiers, Will Obama Cap Rates?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 26 -- After US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power connected by video to President Barack Obama's Ebola meeting on October 26, the White House read-out said

"healthcare workers are an indispensable element of our effort to lead the international community to contain and ultimately end this outbreak at its source, and should be crafted so as not to unnecessarily discourage those workers from serving."

  New York State government Andrew Cuomo, under fire for his and his New Jersey counterpart Chris Christie announced a mandatory 21 day quarantine, held a press conference past 8 pm on Sunday, October 26. Flanked by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, Cuomo clarified that the quarantine can be at home. He said if health care workers' employers don't compensate them, "we" will pay, analogizing it to military service.

   Inner City Press has previously reported on the Service-members' Civil Relief Act which lowers the interest rate creditors may charge to military service-members on active duty.

  Inner City Press and Fair Finance Watch ask: will Obama move to extend those Federal protection to health care workers who go to serve in West Africa?  Watch this site.

   While the UN struggles on Ebola to be relevant and not entirely overshadowed by the United States, as on so many issues under UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, on October 25 US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power took off for the Ebola hot zone, scribes in tow.

   Ban Ki-moon, by contrast, canceled plans to visit the same countries; his spokesman was quoted that "a trip to the impacted countries was indeed envisaged but no final decision was ever made to go ahead. It's important to balance the benefits of these types of travels against the disruption that may be caused to both the U.N. team on the ground and the national governments, who already have their hands full, by a visit of the secretary-general."

   So is a visit by a US cabinet member LESS disruptive?

  As with New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio on October 25 eating in the Meatball Shop in Manhattan's West Village, where now Ebola-sticken doctor Craig Spencer ate on October 21, Power's visit sends a message against over-reaction.

  President Barack Obama's hug of nurse Nina Pham was along the same line -- but the decision to limit it to a photo op and exclude even the print pooler has been criticized even by Andrea Mitchell. (The White House press corps is notably less deferential to Obama than the UN scribes are to Ban Ki-moon, to whom they PROVIDE photo ops, to which the new Free UN Coalition for Access objects.)

  De Blasio as New York City Mayor has said that New York State governor Andrew Cuomo provided no notice of his and his New Jersey counterpart Chris Christie's decision to quarantine anyone returning from Ebola hot zone who has had contact with Ebola patients.

  Without asking how this may apply to the US Mission trip -- which left from Washington -- Inner City Press has a more UN-specific question: does it apply to UN personnel, with their blue laissez passe passports and immunity?

  That is, while the US is defending the UN's immunity for bringing cholera to Haiti, would UN personnel use that same immunity to work-around the New York and New Jersey restrictions? Watch this site.

  Back on September 25 after a Senior US State Department Official said that the US' PEPFAR funding had strengthen health systems allowing prior Ebola outbreaks in East Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo to be rapidly contained, Inner City Press asked the official what the US and PEPFAR had been doing in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Transcript here and below.

  PEPFAR is the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

  The US official said ruefully, “PEPFAR does not have resources in those three countries. They had very low HIV prevalence from the beginning and were not a significant investment country. Over the last several years we have have been investing $500,000 a year in Sierra Leone to support their TB laboratory diagnosis. But we've had very limited support of those countries.”

  And that may be one of the problems. Click here to view map.

  Looking forward, the UN says 4000 of its staff applied by a September 24 to be deployed to the new UNMEER Ebola response mission, to be headquartered in Accra, Ghana. Inner City Press asked a Senior State Department Official -- a different one -- how the US' 4000 people will interface with the UN mission. (Click here for Inner City Press' story on what this other US official said about South Sudan.)

  The US official replied, “we are working closely with UN, we have to coordinate. The UN will put its headquarters in Accra. USAID will have some people working closely with, embedded with them in Accra.”

  Now that US has in essence adopted Liberia, sending 4000 people to respond to Ebola, with the UK similar adopting its former colony Sierra Leone, and France its former colony Guinea, the question arises or remains how these countries were left so under-developed. Watch this site.

From the US transcript:

MODERATOR: Okay. So, open up for questions. Name and outlet, please.

INNER CITY PRESS: Sure. I’m Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press... With all the talk of the medical infrastructure in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea being so weak that it’s collapsed, what were the programs there? Was there – are these – I mean, do these countries stand out as having very weak systems? Or is this (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, thank you for those questions. PEPFAR does not have resources in those three countries you just mentioned. They had very low HIV prevalence from the beginning and were not a significant investment country. Over the last several years, we’ve been investing about $500,000 a year in Sierra Leone to support their TB laboratory diagnosis, but we’ve had very limited support in those three countries.

I wanted to call your attention – this gives me a great opportunity to call your attention to our website at

INNER CITY PRESS: Okay, thanks.

MODERATOR: Other questions? No? All right. Well, thank you very much.


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