Infectious diseases or a jihad against alcohol. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out where government should put its money.
But in the “restricted budget environment in which our government operates today, funding to meet these pandemics has fallen” to $50 million in Fiscal 2015, which starts Oct. 1, from $201 million in fiscal 2010. That shocking figure — a 75% reduction in just five years — is courtesy of Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Global Health, who held a hearing on the Ebola outbreak yesterday.
Meanwhile, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the primary federal agency in fighting infectious diseases, continues its crusade against alcohol — a crusade which has seen the head of the CDC alcohol program partner with advocates to write papers and which has supported questionable science.
Smith yesterday heard testimony that Ebola is going to take far more lives than the 911 that are officially counted as having died from the disease out of 1700 infected.
A Threat to the U.S.
“It’s possible we could have people in the U.S. who develop Ebola after having been exposed elsewhere,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, acknowledged. Frieden repeatedly assured the committee that “we know how to stop Ebola.”
But he also said the U.S. may face “a perfect storm” from Ebola and similar diseases — both natural and manmade.
Which raises the question: If funding is tight, why has Congress and the Obama Administration allowed CDC to continue to pour tens of millions into anti-alcohol programs that have relied on questionable science and that duplicate other Federal programs?
Why hasn’t Congress and the White House insured CDC has the funding necessary to protect the American people and to help those in Africa suffering from what CDC Director Frieden called “an unprecedented outbreak . . . the first in an urban area, something we haven’t seen before” — even if that means eliminating one of six federal programs focused on alcohol?
Testimony at the hearing painted a graphic picture of the impact of the disease.
“In the 32 years since the disease was discovered, it’s clear to say the disease is uncontained and out of control in West Africa. The international response to date has been a failure,” said Ken Issacs, vp-program and government relations, Samaritan’s Purse. That’s the group for which those two medical missionaries being treated at Emory University Hospital worked.
“The World Health Organization reports 1,711 Ebola diagnoses and 911 deaths. Our experts believe this is 25% of what is happening,” Issacs said.
Lack of Attention
“If any one thing was needed to demonstrate lack of attention on this crisis, it was the fact that the international community was comfortable in allowing two relief agencies,” Samaritans Purse and Doctors Without Borders, “to provide all of the relief care in three countries. It wasn’t until American medical missionaries were infected that the world took notice,” Issacs added.
Samaritans Purse operated the only two aircraft in Liberia flying in support of those fighting the outbreak. Those aircraft enabled laboratory samples to be delivered in 40 minutes rather than 32 hours in some cases, he said.
It’s possible the disease may have already spread beyond Africa, Issacs said. A man died in the Saudi Arabian hospital where he was being treated for a hemorrhagic fever. Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever. He had just returned from Sierra Leone, one of the four countries in the outbreak.
Isaacs said Samaritans Purse’s epidemiologists believe “we’ll see a spike in Nigeria. Then it will go quiet for three weeks, and then come out with a fury.”
One reason: Burial practices, which include kissing the corpse.
Another: the international community has built the health care system around community health workers who don’t have the information to understand when a person might be infected with Ebola. In one case, the director of a hospital came down with the disease, infecting his entire family. All 10 died.
Still another reason: Prominent physicians who are educated, credentialed and respected deny the existence of the disease.
Unpaid Health Workers Walked Out
“The entire fight needs to be on containment,” Issacs said. “You have to be able to identify it to contain it. In Liberia’s second largest city, workers in the public health clinic weren’t paid for five months and walked off the job,” Issacs said.
Issacs noted that there is only one plane in the world that is equipped to carry a level four pathogenic disease victim, and that plane is in the U.S. “The U.S. doesn’t have the ability to evacuate large numbers of citizens with the disease,” he said, adding:
“If we expect people to take care of people abroad, there has to be an assurance we can take care of them if they get sick,” whether by aeromedical evacuation to the U.S. or by treatment in a facility dedicated to U.S. personnel abroad.
Dr. Frank Glover of SIM, a Christian missionary organization, said there were less than 200 doctors for all of Liberia before the Ebola outbreak. Now, after most doctors fled the country, there are only 50.
Government Hospitals Shut Down, Christian Hospital Stays Open
After a second doctor died of Ebola, all the government hospitals in Liberia shut down. But Ebola treatment continues at ELWA hospital. ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa) is a Christian ministry that started as a radio station and grew to include a hospital, and school for pre-K to grade 9.
Ebola threatens the stability of the three countries where it is now, Issacs warned. A story in The Wall Street Journal noted the Ebola outbreak has inflicted a deadly toll on front-line medical staff, and a front-page picture showed bodies lying in the street.
In his testimony, Frieden focused on building infrastructure to more effectively respond to future outbreaks. But the crisis is now, and if Smith and other Congressmen are looking for funding, they might just start with eliminating CDC’s alcohol programs.
They could do so knowing that five other government agencies focus on alcohol issues, so little would be lost — and a lot to gain in terms of protecting the American public — if CDC did nothing on alcohol but focused on infectious diseases.