American soldiers being sent to West Africa to fight against the spread of Ebola get only four hours of training before heading overseas, and are arriving in Liberia before any official bases have been set up for them.
The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) has been handling the soldiers' training, reports The Daily Beast
, and says its teams of two can train as many as 50 soldiers on Ebola protocol in the four-hour time period.
"All training is tiered to the level of risk each person may encounter," said institute spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden. The course includes instruction on donning, removing, and decontaminating the soldiers' personal protective equipment, along with a test to be sure they understand what they've just learned.
But while the training is short, it pulls no punches. According to USA Today
, soldiers are told that Ebola "basically causes your body to eat itself from the inside out” and that "The environment we're going into is drastically different (from Afghanistan) ... the stuff that can kill you is much worse."
There are no plans for the service members to have direct contact with Ebola patients, but one of the soldiers told USA Today that he was "kind of scared" about the risk.
In addition to the short training, the first 500 soldiers are arriving in Liberia to find that they will be staying in hotels and government facilities until infrastructure is in place for them, reports The Daily Beast.
Meanwhile, a Senate aide briefed by the Pentagon said the hotels are "fairly well controlled in terms of access" and have a "fairly well-structured screening process going in and out."
Still, the aide said, "once they move to a self-contained quarters, that will probably be better."
Civilians are also staying at the hotels used to house the soldiers.
"We are here with the permission of the Liberian government and we do not clear out local hotels and businesses during our stay," said an Army spokesman. "We chose hotels with the safety of our service members in mind, and the hotel staffs monitor all employees and guests and allow us to conduct safety inspections of their facilities to ensure they meet our safety criteria."
But the military insists that while the disease is deadly, the chance soldiers will be infected is minimal.
"I’m not an epidemiologist, but it’s been shown that this disease is most manifest when handling bodily fluid — blood, other sorts of fluids, and there is no plan right now for U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to do that,” said Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, the officer in charge of America’s operations center in Liberia. "As long as you exercise basic sanitation and cleanliness sort of protocols … I think the risk is relatively low.”
There are now around 500 service members in Senegal and Liberia. Their mission is mainly construction, with the military setting up a 25-bed hospital and 17 treatment units in Liberia, along with training healthcare providers.
And while Williams said soldiers are not handling fluids, there are some members from USAMRIID on site who are. They have been supporting a laboratory where Ebola tests are run. However, they are more highly prepared and trained when it comes to infectious disease.
The military says there will be minimum contact with Liberians, but some troops are in quite close contact. Some troops are working with the Armed Forces of Liberia day-to-day, and using local drivers and vehicles to get around.
There are precautions being taken, though. The soldiers are having their temperatures measured several times daily to monitor for Ebola infection, and they are under orders to not shake hands with anyone.
They also must wash their hands frequently with chlorine, and some locations have chlorine foot mats so service members can wipe their feet before entering.
The Obama administration has come under fire for not explaining the steps the military would take to ensure the soldiers' health when the order was first made to send troops overseas, and the military did not publish its guidelines until Oct. 16.
"That doesn’t mean guidelines didn’t exist before,” said a Pentagon spokesperson. “Our memo standardizes across the services what we expect everyone to do in preparation of going, while there, and upon return.”
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