By The Editorial Board
The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.
An editorial in The New York Times: Ebola, Amnesia and Donald Trump. Excerpt:
The Trump White House, however, appears to be uniquely amnesiac. On the same day that officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo reported the new Ebola cases, the administration sought to rescind $252 million in Ebola response funds left over from the earlier epidemic.
Before Congress acts on that request, members should recall how those funds came to be. Public health officials confirmed the 2014 outbreak at the end of a fiscal year, when most agency budgets — at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S.A.I.D. and elsewhere — were tapped out. The search for additional funding delayed the American response, which in turn led to more lives lost and, ultimately, more money spent.
To prevent the same thing from happening next time, the White House Office of Management and Budget agreed to leave these funds in U.S.A.I.D.’s budget so they would be on hand to combat the next emergency. Rescinding that money brings us back to where we started — ill prepared to mount a rapid response to a new infectious disease threat.
Around the same time that the administration proposed rescinding the funds, the National Security Council dissolved its biosecurity directorate, a small team focused exclusively on global health security threats and led by a director often referred to as the Ebola czar. Again, it’s worth remembering why that office came into existence — a hard lesson. Without a central office to coordinate federal efforts by many agencies, progress was slow the last time the world confronted Ebola.
“It took months of wrangling to put things in place,” Mr. Konyndyk said. “If the only way to get resources is through long negotiations with committees, you are giving disease a head start.” It was based on that realization that the Obama administration established the biosecurity directorate and named the first Ebola coordinator.
The Trump administration has also failed to seek renewed funding from Congress for a global health security initiative begun after the 2014 epidemic. The goal of that initiative was to help high-risk countries prepare for future disease outbreaks in order to prevent pandemics. The White House has touted the success of those efforts but has done nothing to keep them going. And as funds have dried up, the C.D.C. has been forced to scale back or discontinue programs in some of the most vulnerable countries.
But whether and how these policy shifts will affect the current Ebola response remains to be seen. Though the outbreak seems to have been quickly contained, it involves a disease that we have fresh and terrifying experience with, in a country that has seen this particular foe nine times in living memory. The next outbreak may not offer such a head start.
And when it comes, Mr. Trump’s shortsightedness, if it is not corrected, will have left us far less prepared.