President Barack Obama is urging U.S. lawmakers, before they leave for the holiday recess in a few weeks, to pass $6.2 billion in emergency funding to fight the Ebola virus and prepare U.S. hospitals to handle future cases.
Speaking Tuesday at the National Institutes of Health near Washington, Obama said money to battle the disease is running out. He said Congress could give a Christmas present to the American people and the world by passing a spending bill.
He called it "exciting news" that a potential Ebola vaccine produced no serious side effects during the first phase of clinical testing. He noted that no other potential Ebola drug had progressed this far to date.
However, Obama stressed that there was no guarantee the vaccine would work and that the fight was not close to being over, even if media attention had shifted to other issues.
Most of Obama's request is aimed at the immediate response to the disease at home and abroad. But the package also includes $1.5 billion in contingency funds — money that could become a target if lawmakers decided to trim the bill.
"That is the part of the package that is most at risk,'' said Sam Worthington, president of InterAction, an alliance of U.S. nongovernmental aid groups.
While lawmakers recognize that the United States has to take action to arrest the deadly disease, some are wary of giving the administration leeway in investing money in public health systems in West Africa.
"I think there is less understanding of the need to stay in it for the long run and to build the capacity of countries to ensure this doesn't happen in the future,'' Worthington said.
Ebola has killed about 6,000 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, along with a handful of people in other countries.
The Obama administration came under fire in September after a series of missteps with a man who traveled to Dallas from Liberia and later died of Ebola. Two nurses contracted the disease while caring for the man.
Screening and treatment procedures have since been tightened. There are no current U.S. cases, and stories about the outbreak have faded from headlines.
"My hope is that we're not getting Ebola fatigue setting in,'' said Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA, a Christian missionary group that helps treat Ebola patients in Liberia. "There continues to be a huge need for this funding.''
Some information for this report came from Reuters.