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Ebola Casts A Shadow Over Obama's Africa Press Conference


Today, President Obama closed what's been called an unprecedented meeting in Washington - the U.S.-Africa Leader's Summit. And afterward, he took some questions from reporters. NPR's Tamara Keith joins me now from the White House. And, Tamara, the president came out late today, summing up what he saw as the value of this summit with African leaders. What did he have to say?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: He said that he expects that this will not be the last time that they do this. He wants this to be an ongoing type of thing and that he hopes that future U.S. presidents will continue this relationship and have future summits. He also announced that, all told, the summit has brought $37 billion in investment to the African continent. And he also says that they had good discussions today, he and the leaders, many times in these meetings that were behind closed doors, about human rights and corruption.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Some African nations are making impressive progress, but we see troubling restrictions on universal rights. So today was an opportunity to highlight the importance of rule of law, opening accountable institutions, strong civil societies and protection of human rights for all citizens and all communities.

BLOCK: Well, it's interesting, Tamara, because a Kenyon journalist asked the president at the news conference about a crackdown on press freedoms in Africa.

KEITH: Yeah, his name is David Ohito. He's from Nairobi. And he asked the president about journalists who are currently jailed in Egypt and Ethiopia. And law in Kenya that are making it hard to be a journalist. The question was what can the international community do about that. President Obama's answer may not have satisfied him, it's not clear. He said that the international community is continuing to push for this. He said that sometimes you have to work with countries that don't necessarily have a great record on everything and hopes that maybe they'll turn around. And he said that in some of the discussions today he felt that the leaders were receptive to the idea that their success depends on having a civil society and the kind of transparency that comes from a free press. And he also talked about his theme that's come up again and again throughout the summit - that investment dollars will seek out stability and part of stability is a transparent government.

BLOCK: The president was also asked, Tamara, about the Ebola virus that's been ravaging some countries in West Africa. And he was asked about what the U.S. has been able to do specifically with an experiment drug, a serum, not yet approved for commercial use.

KEITH: That drug has been used to treat the two American health workers who came down with Ebola and have since been brought back to America for treatment. But he said that the science isn't really in yet, that they are in a very early stage. And he said that in terms of this Ebola outbreak, it's controllable, but it requires stronger public health systems, which is something he said they discussed during the summit.


OBAMA: And even as the United States is deploying some of our medical first-responders to West Africa to help control the Ebola outbreak, we're also working to strengthen public health systems, including joining with the African Union to pursue the creation of an African Centers for Disease Control.

KEITH: And as to whether that serum should be more widely distributed, he said he just doesn't have enough data on that to offer an opinion.

BLOCK: OK, NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.