By the way: U.S. troops have landed in West Africa to fight Ebola

What are they doing? Building tent hospitals in swamps, for one, after arriving at Liberia’s ghost town airport.

The American military effort against history’s deadliest Ebola outbreak is taking shape in West Africa, but concerns are mounting that the pace isn’t fast enough to check a virus that is spreading at a terrifying clip.

On Saturday, a handful of troops from the Navy’s 133rd Mobile Construction Battalion led a bulldozer through thigh-high grass outside Liberia’s main airport, bottles of hand sanitizer dangling from their belt loops.

The Globe and Mail reports the U.S. military is moving fast
—19 days from an announcement of a $22 million hospital’s construction to breaking ground—but it may still not be fast enough to match the quickly moving disease, which has now killed almost 3,000 and infected more than 6,000, according to WHO figures:

On Saturday, four U.S. naval engineers began the first phase of construction of a 25-bed field hospital for health workers in Liberia who catch the Ebola virus. A heavy grader was smoothing the damp weedy soil at an empty field near the international airport as the project was launched.

The Pentagon had announced plans for the $22-million (U.S.) hospital on Sept. 8, two days after U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to send military help to the Ebola-afflicted countries.

More details, such that they are, of the mission from Voice of America:

Along with the deployment of these troops to Liberia, U.S. President Barack Obama has committed $175 million and will build 17 new health care facilities in the region with 100 beds each and train up to 500 health care providers per week.

Local residents had mixed feelings about the military involvement as the first uniformed soldiers arrived here at the end of September.

“Well, seeing them is like sometimes happiness, sometimes not. I don’t know. I don’t know their real mission here,” said Acostel Tmba, a local resident…

Colonel Brad Johnson is in charge of setting up an air bridge – the expansion of Robertsfield airport to make sure that the necessary goods Liberia needs to fight Ebola can be provided quickly throughout the country.

Johnson said Liberia and America are not only united by a long friendship and history, but also by a common language, which should make things much easier.

Worst-case predictions are dire:

The latest estimates of the spread of the disease follow a somber projection by the health organization that the number of people infected by Ebola could hit 20,000 by early November, and another forecast, by the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that the number of infections could reach 1.4 million by January.

Both projections presented worst-case scenarios, and officials of both organizations thought it probable that the scaling up of the international response would avert these outcomes.

But seven weeks after the W.H.O. declared the outbreak a global health emergency, its latest report shows the capacity of treatment centers in the worst-affected countries still falling short of requirements.

The Globe and Mail notes that the families of these troops are just as worried for their safety as if they were in a traditional combat zone. Indeed, stay safe, SeaBees.

And, lest I only bring you tidings of horror, here’s a rare good story out of the Ebola outbreak. Meet Fatu Kekula, whose family has a survival rate much higher than the average Ebola rate thanks to her care.

It can be exhausting nursing a child through a nasty bout with the flu, so imagine how 22-year-old Fatu Kekula felt nursing her entire family through Ebola.

Her father. Her mother. Her sister. Her cousin. Fatu took care of them all, single-handedly feeding them, cleaning them and giving them medications.

And she did so with remarkable success. Three out of her four patients survived. That’s a 25% death rate — considerably better than the estimated Ebola death rate of 70%.

Fatu stayed healthy, which is noteworthy considering that more than 300 health care workers have become infected with Ebola, and she didn’t even have personal protection equipment — those white space suits and goggles used in Ebola treatment units.

She may have even created a new method that can keep caregivers safer in an outbreak that is short on health care infrastructure. What an amazing woman. Prayers for her continued safety:

International aid workers heard about Fatu’s “trash bag method” and are now teaching it to other West Africans who can’t get into hospitals and don’t have protective gear of their own.

Every day, several times a day for about two weeks, Fatu put trash bags over her socks and tied them in a knot over her calves. Then she put on a pair of rubber boots and then another set of trash bags over the boots.

She wrapped her hair in a pair of stockings and over that a trash bag. Next she donned a raincoat and four pairs of gloves on each hand, followed by a mask.