WASHINGTON — President Obama struck a somber tone Tuesday about the growing Ebola crisis in Western Africa even as he pledged an unprecedented U.S. effort to stop the further spread of the disease.
"The reality is that this epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better, but right now the world still has an opportunity to save countless lives," Obama said in a speech at the Centers For Disease Control in Atlanta. "Right now the world has a responsibility to act, to step up and to do more. And the United States of America intends to do more. We are going to keep leading in this effort."
Obama announced "the largest international response in the history of the CDC" in response to the Ebola outbreak, part of a larger U.S. response including assets from USAID and the Defense Department.
The president acknowledged that the international response has been slow from the starting blocks. But he said that would change with the new American-led operation, which administration officials said Monday night would shift more than $500 million to combating Ebola in Africa.
"International organizations just have to move faster than they have up until this point. More nations need to contribute experienced personnel, supplies and funding that's needed, and they need to deliver on what they pledge quickly," Obama said.
The president promised the necessary tools to fight back the epidemic are already on hand.
"The world knows how to fight this disease. It's not a mystery. We know the science. We know how to prevent it from spreading. We know how to care for those who contract it," he said. "We know that if we take the proper steps, we can save lives. But we have to act fast. We can't dawdle on this one."
As he has in the past, the president downplayed the chance of an Ebola epidemic on American shores.
"We've been taking the necessary precautions, including working with countries in West Africa to increase screening at airports so that someone with the virus doesn't get on a plane for the United States," Obama said.
Africa is not so lucky, the president said.
"In West Africa, Ebola is now an epidemic of the likes that we have not seen before. It's spiraling out of control. It is getting worse. It's spreading faster and exponentially. Today, thousands of people in West Africa are infected," Obama said. "That number could rapidly grow to tens of thousands. And if the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us."