Fund the fight against Ebola

The number of new Ebola cases in West Africa could grow as high as 10,000 new cases a week within two months, according to a projection by the World Health Organization.
Americans are understandably concerned about the spread of Ebola cases in the United States after learning a second Dallas nurse caught the disease from a patient and flew across the Midwest aboard an airliner the day before she was diagnosed.
But the projected spread of the deadly disease in Africa is beyond alarming. As Ebola rapidly spreads in West Africa it not only puts that continent in danger it also affects the United States and other countries.
On Oct. 14, WHO assistant director-general Dr. Bruce Aylward gave the grim projection during a news conference in Geneva. WHO had previously estimated the Ebola mortality rate at around 50 percent overall. In contrast, in events such as flu pandemics, the death rate is typically under 2 percent.
Aylward told reporters if the world’s response to the Ebola crisis isn’t stepped up within 60 days, “a lot more people will die” and health workers will be stretched even further. Experts say the epidemic is doubling in size about every three weeks.
On Oct. 14, WHO raised its Ebola death toll tally to 4,447 people, nearly all of them in West Africa, out of more than 8,900 believed to be infected. Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have been the hardest-hit nations in the current epidemic.
In other Ebola news last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admitted that agency could have had a better response to the case of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died in Texas on Oct. 8. He said a critical-care nurse, Nina Pham, might not have been infected if a team had been sent to Dallas immediately after Duncan was diagnosed.
There is plenty of blame to place for the spread of the current epidemic around staring with congress slashing of the budget for the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the NIH, told The Huffington Post the U.S. would likely have already developed a vaccine for Ebola if budget cuts had not devastated the country’s research capacities.
Funding for the NIH was cut as a result of the so-called sequester budget cuts implemented last year.
“NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,’” Collins said.
“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.”
Collins said budget cuts have significantly impacted the development of therapeutic treatments, which he said, “were on a slower track than would’ve been ideal, or that would have happened if we had been on a stable research support trajectory.” He added, “We would have been a year or two ahead of where we are, which would have made all the difference.”
He said the Ebola treatment known as ZMapp would not be available in significant doses this year because of budget cuts. “Had it not been for other shortages, we might very well by now know that it works and have a large stock of it,” he added.
Scientific American also reported funding for the CDC’s public health preparedness and response programs has been reduced by more than $1 billion since 2002.
While improving hospital safety guidelines and additional airport screenings will help, more money will be needed to address the epidemic.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey last week released a letter demanding more money for the Hospital Preparedness Program, the main federal effort to train local hospitals to properly use protective gear, set up isolation units and handle epidemic emergencies.
In an editorial board meeting with The Philadelphia Tribune on Oct. 14, Casey said state grants from the Hospital Preparedness Program are currently funded at $255 million, less than half the 2004 level and well below the $375 million authorized by Congress last year.
There should be no question that the already authorized money should be released to help guard against a potential outbreak.
Also this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are donating $25 million to the CDC to help address the epidemic. The grant follows a $9 million donation made by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen last month.
While these private donations by billionaires will help, they cannot replace the power and resources of the federal government to fund the CDC and the NIH and other health agencies fighting the spread of Ebola.
(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune)
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