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Obama to announce troops, funds to fight Ebola

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The Ebola epidemic continues to ravage West Africa. This photo was taken in Kailahun, Sierra Leone in August 2014.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Obama will turn his attention to Ebola on Tuesday, announcing new U.S. steps to combat the growing epidemic in West Africa.

With a U.S. general leading the effort from Liberia’s capital of Monrovia, American military personnel in the region could increase by 3,000, administration officials say. Working through the Defense Department, the United States will plan and construct treatment centers that could house up to 1,700 beds.

Washington has committed more than $100 million to combat Ebola, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. Obama plans to call on Congress to approve an additional $88 million as part of a bill to fund the federal government.

Last week, USAID said it would spend $75 million to build treatment facilities and supply them with medical equipment. The Pentagon says it’s working to shift $500 million of currently not yet obligated funds toward the Ebola effort.

The plan, which he’ll announce at the Atlanta headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also includes an increase in trained medical professionals to be sent to help. Medics and other uniformed professionals will train up to 500 health care workers per week to identify and care for people with Ebola.

The U.S. government also hopes to send 400,000 treatment kits with sanitizer and other items to at-risk homes in an attempt to contain the disease. Public health campaigns will be broadcast through existing networks in the countries most affected: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The President’s visit to the CDC comes amid escalating criticism from health experts of the global response to the outbreak in West Africa, where almost 2,500 people have died.

U.S. officials hope a more coordinated logistical situation on the ground, put in place by the United States, will encourage other nations to step up their efforts.

“We’ve seen dozens of cases turn into hundreds, then hundreds turn into thousands,” a U.S. administration official said. “If we do not … arrest that growth now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of cases.”

The efforts of the United States — deemed more extensive than any previous U.S. response to an epidemic — have so far been unable to stop the spread of the deadly virus, which Obama and White House officials are calling a national security problem.

Particularly concerning, U.S. officials say, is the potential for instability in the countries where Ebola is rampant and the possibility that the virus could mutate into an even more dangerous form.

Ebola currently transmits only though contact with bodily fluids; a mutation that allows the virus to spread through the air would pose a catastrophic threat to people worldwide, health experts say.

Speaking Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said there was still a “very low” likelihood the Ebola virus could mutate in a way that threatens the United States.

“Right now, the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is very low,” he said, “but that risk would only increase if there were not a robust response on the part of the United States.”

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