When medical officials confirmed that a second individual involved with delivering treatment to the original Ebola patient contracted the disease, my concerns grew. When more news surfaced that the plane the individual flew on traveled to other airports before being decontaminated-namely the busiest in the country- scenes from the movie Contagion instantly flooded my mind. Ebola has proven that it is a disease without borders and many people would like some assurance that the US health care system has this under control. I certainly have not gotten that assurance yet. Instead a “blame game” has commenced.
This week, the Agenda Project Action Fund began airing an ad targeting Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Marco Rubio and several other GOP Senate candidates, declaring “Republican cuts kill,” directly blaming Congressional Republicans for the Ebola outbreak. This new Democratic talking point was provoked by statements from National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins. He told the Huffington Post that the agency has been working to develop an Ebola vaccine for more than a decade but was hindered by dwindling budgets. Collins says, “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”
The 2014 NIH budget was $30.14 billion, up from $28.5 billion in 2006. Due to the impact of inflation that is a small cut; however, the agency also obtained a $10 billion windfall in 2009 from the stimulus law. Additionally, in January, the Republican-led House passed legislation that increased the Center for Disease Control (CDC) spending for 2014 by $567 million, which is $300 million more than was request by President Obama. The Agenda Project ad also fails to note that the U.S. Global Health Program budget has increased more than six-fold since 2001.
The claim by Dr. Collins called for some observers, including Michael Tanner from Cato Institute, to point to some questionable NIH-funded studies like a study on the sex life of fruit flies, a study to determine why people like Seinfeld reruns, and a study of how fast husbands and wives calm down after a fight.
With one death, two active cases, and several more Americans under surveillance, it is becoming clear that the CDC was not ready for the likelihood of this event. Procedures were not in place and preparation was inadequate. Ebola patients have been successfully treated in the U.S. prior to the recent outbreak without transmitting the virus to others caring for them. The main concern must be guaranteeing that the right treatment procedures are available and that those providing treatment are conscientiously abiding by proper measures. It is imperative there are clear processes to monitor and assess those who may have been exposed to the virus. Decontaminating possibly infected areas should be done promptly and efficiently. The administration, state and local officials, the CDC and NIH all have a laundry list of things to do to encourage Americans that the right steps to avoid an outbreak are in place. This relates to protocols and appropriation of funds.
Yesterday, the head of the CDC Tom Frieden said he is “always open to ideas” on how to handle Ebola. While that remark wasn’t necessarily reassuring, he is on the right track. Instead of playing the “blame game,” let’s start playing the “crisis management game” and reassure Americans this is not Contagion.