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The U.S. Ebola Hospitals In Liberia Are Going Up ... Slowly

Last month, the United States made two promises to Liberia.

On Sept. 8, Obama pledged that the U.S. would construct a 25-bed hospital outside Monrovia, the capital, to treat health care workers. They've been bearing the brunt of the outbreak: In Liberia alone, at least 188 health workers have been infected and 94 have died.

Then, on Sept. 16, Obama announced a massive response to the outbreak, involving thousands of U.S. troops on the ground to train health care workers, deliver relief supplies and build 17 Ebola treatment centers for the general public.

At the time of the announcement, Obama stressed that time is of the essence. "It's spiraling out of control. It is getting worse. It's spreading faster and exponentially," he said at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "Today, thousands of people in West Africa are infected. That number could rapidly grow to tens of thousands."

Yet progress on the hospitals has been slow.

As NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Liberia, a month later, workers are still spreading gravel on the construction site of the 25-bed hospital. Standing on the side are dozens of locals looking for work.

Without health care workers, the hospital won't be able to open its doors. NPR's Nurith Aizenman is in Anniston, Ala., where officers from the U.S. Public Health Services, who will run the hospital, are supposed to get trained by CDC.

Right now, she tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep, only eight of the 65 people needed are there.

"Quite a number of [officers] are being delayed for all sorts of reasons," she says. "I'm told not all of them have passports, they have to get all the vaccinations that you need to work in West Africa — so they're not scheduled to get this training for another two weeks."

And this round of training is just the preliminary three-day course. "There's more training to come," she says.

At this rate, the earliest the hospital can open its doors for business is possibly around the end of October — about seven weeks after the hospital was promised.

"Maybe that is a reasonable amount of time to staff up a hospital from scratch," Aizenman says, "but reasonable amounts of time are a luxury that we don't really have in this outbreak."

The 17 other treatment units that Obama promised are also under construction, though Beaubien reports that the U.S. military expects those to be fully operational in 60 to 90 days.

Our photo gallery checks in on the progress of these projects.

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Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.