WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama on Friday named attorney Ron Klain to coordinate the US response to the Ebola outbreak, amid growing anxiety over its spread beyond West Africa.
The new “Ebola czar,” as he was described widely in US media, will report directly to Obama’s Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
The longtime Democratic aide is to begin his job soon, ensuring that “efforts to protect the American people by detecting, isolating and treating Ebola patients in this country are properly integrated but don’t distract from the aggressive commitment to stopping Ebola at the source in West Africa,” the White House said.
Klain is a former senior aide to Obama, and served as chief of staff to both Vice President Joe Biden and former vice president Al Gore.
He currently heads Case Holdings – a holding company founded by former AOL chief executive Steve Case – and is general counsel at technology-oriented venture capital firm Revolution LLC.
Several Republicans swiftly savaged Obama’s appointment, saying he installed a political crony with no medical experience to tackle a potential health emergency.
“This appointment is both shocking and frankly tone deaf to what the American people are concerned about,” said congressman Tim Murphy, who chaired a House hearing Thursday on the fumbled US response to the crisis.
“Installing yet another political appointee who has no medical background or infectious disease control experience will do little to reassure Americans who are increasingly losing confidence with the administration’s Ebola strategy.”
Asked by reporters why the White House chose someone without medical experience for the job, spokesman Josh Earnest said: “What we were looking for is not an Ebola expert but rather an implementation expert.”
A Liberian man died from Ebola in Texas on October 8 and two American nurses who treated him have tested positive for the virus that has already killed more than 4,500 people in hard-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The infection of the US nurses has embarrassed American health authorities, who faced questions about how the disease – which kills around 70 percent of those it infects in West Africa – had spread.
The first Ebola-stricken nurse, Nina Pham, arrived late Thursday at a specialised US government hospital in Maryland, and was in “fair” condition on Friday.
“She is very fatigued,” said Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters.
“This virus knocks you out.”