Global health experts and Democratic lawmakers are raising alarm about a plan by the nation's top public health agency to "dramatically" scale back its efforts to combat outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad due to uncertainty over future funding from the Republican-controlled Congress and the Trump administration.
With a one-time grant from Congress—allocated in 2014 to battle the Ebola epidemic in West Africa—slated to run out next year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has decided to reduce or eliminate disease-fighting efforts in 39 countries, or nearly 80 percent of the nations that receive assistance from the agency, according to recent reports by the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.
Democratic lawmakers have responded with demands for funding. While Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) pointed out that many infectious diseases "are only an airplane flight away from the United States," and blasted "the continuing and harmful spread of Trumpism's #AntiScience know-nothingism" for "endangering everyone," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) warned that government officials "will surely come to regret" not providing more money for the global initiative.
Ebola. Zika. Chikungunya. @realDonaldTrump’s wall won’t stop these diseases that have posed a serious threat to our country. We need to give the @CDCgov the resources they need to prevent global outbreaks or we will surely come to regret it. https://t.co/TIwWv9A2tm
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) February 1, 2018
A coalition of global health groups sent a letter (pdf) this week to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, imploring him to intervene with the Trump administration and work with Congress to secure sustained funding for epidemic prevention.
The letters emphasizes that "U.S. investments in global health security and deployed CDC personnel are making America safer today" and "these programs are essential to our national defense, forming critical links in the U.S. prevention, detection, and response chain for outbreaks."
The coalition warns that if Republicans decline to allocate more money, the U.S. "stands to lose vital information about epidemic threats garnered on the ground through trusted relationships, real-time surveillance, and research," and that "complacency in the wake of successful outbreak interventions leads to a cycle of funding cuts followed by ever more costly outbreaks."
Former CDC director Tom Frieden, who now serves as president and chief executive of the epidemic preparedness group Resolve to Save Lives, told the Journal that the planned reductions will result in fewer trained local experts, meaning "they're more likely to have outbreaks and less likely to be able to stop them themselves," and "we'll have to respond instead of having them respond."
Describing the initiative as "the front line against terrible organisms," Frieden explained to the Post that "you can't fight it just within our borders. You've got to fight epidemic diseases where they emerge."
While 10 "priority countries" with "strategic or regional importance for the CDC" will still receive agency support after October 2019 under the current plans, the Post notes that "countries where the CDC is planning to scale back include some of the world's hot spots for emerging infectious disease, such as China, Pakistan, Haiti, Rwanda, and Congo."