By Bekah Paxton, Staff Writer
A second case of Ebola in the United States has been found, and the outbreak of the deadly virus is already becoming politicized. Anthony Zurcher, editor of BBC’s Echo Chambers blog, reported on Monday that the United States’ potential mishandlings of Ebola patients and isolation may be a result of lack of appropriate funding toward public health and federal budget cuts made earlier this year.
Upon the release of the news of the Texas nurse Ebola case, Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, retracted his previous statement that all hospitals in the United States are completely equipped to deal with the intense protocol necessary to contain the spread of Ebola. He emerged with a more recent statement earlier this week claiming steps are being taken to “rethink” the CDC’s approach to the virus by seeking new training and outreach methods for hospital workers.
Arguments have been made since President Obama’s investigative meeting surrounding Ebola on Oct. 13 that many hospitals in fact do not have the proper training and mechanisms to handle the virus, which requires extensive isolation protocol.
“We haven’t provided [caregivers] with a national training program. We haven’t provided them with the necessary experts that have actually worked in hospitals with Ebola,” said public health expert Dr. Gavin McGregor-Skinner of Penn State University. His call for increased national training to deal with these situations ultimately requires extensive funding. This funding comes through the money allotted in the federal budget, essentially comprised of tax revenues.
With this information, Zurcher’s argument makes sense. The federal budget was already surrounded by controversy as President Obama failed to pass a successful model resulting in the government shutdown last October. After this initial stumbling block, the president himself was forced to make cuts, then approved by Congress, which essentially landed in the public health department.
“[The National Institute of Health’s] budget was reduced by $446 million from 2010 to 2014… The CDC’s discretionary funding was cut by $585 million during this same period,” said infectious disease expert Judy Stone in an article from Scientific American. “Shockingly, annual funding for the CDC’s public health preparedness and response efforts were $1 [billion] lower for 2013 fiscal year than for 2002.”
Politicization of the Ebola scare then results from the blame-game between parties as to who is responsible for these financial shortcomings. Liberal and democratic political groups have placed the blame on Republican Congress members for the cuts, while more conservative and Republican groups have attributed the cuts to the President. Once again, party polarization complicates the process of actually attempting to solve a problem — this time, the problem being inadequate preparedness for Ebola’s spread in the United States.
What, then, is the significance of CDC director Frieden’s retraction of his initial statement on American hospitals’ preparedness for ebola? Given the closing of President Obama’s final term, it’s possible that Frieden, as the presidentially appointed head of the CDC, is trying to preserve the image of the current administration. After all, what kind of legacy would the president have if the United States were caught financially unable to prepare its health facilities in the wake of the Ebola crisis? I will leave this up to speculation.
Overall, perhaps the CDC truly overestimated the methods in place to deal with the limited amount of cases in the United States thus far, and the recent shortcomings in readiness to deal with the deadly virus will galvanize the public health world to ensure the best care for Ebola patients possible.