WHO health worker training in Sierra Leone. Training that we're not paying for here.
The National Institutes of Health
funding has been cut
. The Centers for Disease Control's funding has been cut.
Without those cuts, the Director of the NIH says, "we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would've gone through clinical trials and would have been ready." And without those cuts, the CDC would be in a much better position to prevent the disease from spreading in the U.S. So let's go for the trifecta and talk about cuts
to the Hospital Preparedness Program, a state-federal cooperative administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.
That program does just what it says it does—prepares hospitals for pandemics. In 2003, the program was funded at $520 million. In 2013, its budget had been pared down to $358 million. Because of sequestration, its budget for both 2014 and 2015 is $255 million.
Officials at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness have warned that the funding shortfall has created a vulnerability. Dr. Irwin Redlener, who directs the center, said there are only four hospitals in the U.S. "at a very high level of readiness" to care for patients with potentially lethal diseases like Ebola.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, noted that any hospital with an isolation ward could treat an Ebola patient, since the disease is transmitted only through direct contact with bodily fluids or objects contaminated with the virus. "It's not so much a matter of facilities," he said.
Rather, the biggest hurdle is training nurses and health professionals in how to properly handle a contagious patient. The Hospital Preparedness Program assists with this sort of training in the face of public health crises.
At the ground level here in the U.S., both the CDC's emergency preparedness unit for state and local public health units and this program that prepares hospital staff have been decimated by budget cuts. Budget cuts at the NIH slowed down vaccine development which could have helped prevent an epidemic in Africa, and cuts to domestic programs mean that our public health system isn't adequately prepared—for any major infectious disease outbreak. Those cuts were forced by Republican hostage taking, insisting on slashing budgets and refusing tax increases.
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Meanwhile, John McCain and his buddies are screaming
for an Ebola czar (which maybe our surgeon general could be, if we had a surgeon general which we don't because the NRA torpedoed his nomination). Think Ebola is terrifying enough to make them loosen the purse strings? Think again. They'd rather fearmonger on this issue than fix it.