WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following opening statement a committee hearing about the international response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa:
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing. Let me say, it was good spending time with you this past week. And to our witnesses: thank you for your service and for your testimony here today. I want to single out Rajiv Shah, the administrator of USAID, with whom I’ve worked closely during the past several years. We appreciate your efforts, Administrator Shah, and the efforts of all the good people who are testifying before here today. Thank you Ambassador Williams, and the others. Thank you so much.
“Since our Africa and Global Health Subcommittee held a hearing on Ebola in September, the number of cases has nearly tripled. The World Health Organization is reporting over 14,000 Ebola cases as of November 12, 2014. And a total of 5,147 people have died.
“The United States has now seen the implications of this outbreak here at home. Several heroic healthcare workers who gave their time and skills to treat Ebola patients in West Africa have contracted the disease and been successfully treated here in the United States. We are grateful for their selflessness and for their sacrifices.
“Just as the doctors volunteering to help combat Ebola overseas deserve our recognition, so do our health workers and border and transportation officials who are working tirelessly to prevent an outbreak in the U.S.
“As a New Yorker, let me say how proud I am of the staff of Bellevue Hospital and all of the New York public-health officials who were involved in successfully treating Dr. Craig Spencer, who was released on Tuesday, Ebola-free.
“No matter how diligent we are here at home, there is always a chance of Ebola reaching our shores as long as the disease is thriving in West Africa. To prevent this from happening, we need to stamp out Ebola at its source.
“Most importantly, this Ebola outbreak is causing tremendous suffering. Our country has a proud tradition of stepping up in the event of a major crisis and that should continue. That’s why I support the strong commitment the U.S. has made to combating and eradicating this outbreak in West Africa.
“The United States has been a leader in the response to Ebola, particularly in Liberia. To date, more than $414 million has been disbursed. Our soldiers are building treatment facilities across the country, a high quality 25-bed hospital for health care workers who contract Ebola, and providing vital air and logistical support. The CDC has helped establish laboratories that reduce the time it takes to get an accurate diagnosis from days to mere hours. USAID is supporting more than 50 burial teams and more than 2,200 workers who are doing vital contracting work.
“As I have said, the U. S. cannot meet this challenge alone. Ebola is a global challenge requiring a global response. Fortunately, international efforts to control the epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have increased both in terms of financial support and on-the-ground assistance.
“Our partners in Europe and Asia have stepped up their commitments to the region. NGOs and humanitarian organizations, which shouldered most of the burden in fighting this epidemic for months, now have more robust and sustained support from donor countries.
“However, despite these positive signs, much work remains before this epidemic is under control. And unfortunately, the significant financial commitments we have already made will not be enough to control this outbreak.
“But we cannot become complacent. All it takes is one unmonitored and untreated Ebola patient to cause another flare-up.
“We’ve all seen the emergency funding request that the Administration sent to Congress on November 5th. Given the dire humanitarian impact Ebola is having on West Africa and the global health threat this disease poses, I strongly support this request. Like my colleagues, I would like to get more details from our witnesses. How will this funding be used? Why is it critical not only for the Ebola crisis, but for our campaign to respond to emergencies globally?
“I hope we can shed a little more light on those issues, but Congress should quickly approve this request so that our efforts to end this outbreak aren’t derailed due to a lack of financial resources.
“Finally, while controlling the epidemic is our first objective, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the three most heavily affected West African countries have significant long-term needs for assistance.
“The World Bank estimates that the regional financial impact could reach $32.6 billion by the end of just 2015. This would be catastrophic for a region just getting back on its feet after a prolonged period of conflict. So while the international response must be swift, it must also be sustained.
“I also want to mention my gratitude and appreciation for all of our U.S. government personnel in the region—the men and women who represent and support our missions abroad in West Africa. I thank the military who are here. This is a challenging time for everyone involved and we appreciate all of their hard work in dealing with this crisis.
“I know how busy all of our witnesses are, and I appreciate the time that all of you are taking to give us this valuable update.
“So Mr. Chairman, thank you again for convening this hearing and thank you to our witnesses for being here today.”
Watch Rep. Engel's opening statement here