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As more U.S. troops head to West Africa, the Pentagon is developing portable isolation units that can carry up to 12 Ebola patients for transport on military planes.
The Pentagon says it does not expect it will need the units for 3,000 U.S. troops heading to the region to combat the virus because military personnel will not be treating Ebola patients directly. Instead, the troops are focusing on building clinics, training personnel and testing patient blood samples for Ebola.
"We want to be prepared to care for the people we do have there just out of an abundance of caution," Defense Department spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said. She said prototypes would be tested in the next month before being deployed in the field by January.
The Pentagon's transportation system will allow the Air Force to use C-17 or C-130 transport planes to carry up to eight patients on stretchers or 12 patients who are able to walk, said Charles Bass, a Defense Department chemical engineer working on the project. Elzea said the cost of the units couldn't be provided as the final contract for the project is still under negotiation.
Bass, a former Army officer, said the units are key to providing peace of mind to U.S. troops in Africa. "It's important when you're on deployment that you feel that someone has your back," he said. "(It) adds confidence to the people who are deployed."
Phoenix Air, which currently offers the only medically approved means of carrying Ebola patients at a cost of $200,000 a flight, has flown more than a dozen missions since late July, said Dent Thompson, company vice president of operations. That includes flights carrying three people infected with Ebola — physician Kent Brantly, missionary Nancy Writebol and cameraman Ashoka Mukpo — from Africa to the United States. The company also has carried other patients or those exposed to the virus to Europe and within the USA, Thompson added.
Phoenix Air handles emergency Ebola flights, including for the U.S. military, through a contract with the U.S. State Department. Non-governmental groups seeking the service reimburse the U.S. government for Phoenix Air services, Thompson said.