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Ebola Containment Equipment Gets Capitol Hill Debut

Kinzinger helped coordinate an Illinois company's visit with health officials. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Kinzinger helped coordinate an Illinois company's visit with health officials. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A patient isolation chamber suited for the front lines of the fight against Ebola in West Africa arrived Tuesday on the third floor of the Rayburn House Office building.  

Congressional aides watched the portable unit, which weighs 35 pounds and has up to 10 hours of battery life, inflate atop a table in the room normally used for subcommittee hearings of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. They reached their hands into the eight glove “arms” around the unit, and examined the ports used for medical tubing.  

The portable patient isolation chamber is a tool that “really isn’t being deployed right now,” said Zach Hunter, spokesman for Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who worked in conjunction with a fellow Illinois Republican, Sen. Mark S. Kirk, to bring the Romeoville, Ill., company that manufactures the product to Capitol Hill. The medical equipment arrived on the Hill on the day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released another round of ominous predictions about the spread of the epidemic. Fighting Ebola, said House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., “demands an all hands on deck effort.”  

Congress appropriated $88 million towards efforts in West Africa before skipping town until the November elections. The Department of Defense and the Pentagon have transferred  more resources to the effort, and the Illinois company is hoping its product can be part of the fight.  

A photo of the clear-walled capsule surfaced on Kinzinger’s Twitter account, though the congressman was back home in his district.

Officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development, CDC and a representative from the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health attended the presentation, Hunter said. The company, ISOVAC Products, has been working with the Pentagon to develop medical equipment according to its specifications.  

“It’s for protecting soldiers and health care workers,” Hunter said. “Instead of having to put on unwieldy suits, [they] could put infected patients inside it. The danger is in getting folks from remote villages to hospitals.”  

One week before the equipment demonstration, a Senate panel invited Kent Brantly, the medical missionary who contracted Ebola while working as a doctor in Liberia, to testify. He spoke about the dire need for health equipment and supplies in West Africa.  

“All of these interventions that are needed to stop this horrendous transnational outbreak require significant funding, and budgets must be adjusted appropriately,” Brantly warned. “This is not simply a matter of providing humanitarian aid; it is very much a national security concern.”  

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