CDC spends $5M to use ebola jet it helped de­velop

Keep­ing world’s only ‘bio-con­tain­ment unit’ on re­tainer pre­vi­ously deemed too costly

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JIM MCELHATTON

As the Ebola virus spread quickly across parts of Africa in March, U.S. of­fi­cials con­fronted a lo­gis­ti­cal night­mare: a com­plete lack of in­fra­struc­ture in af­fected re­gions, no evac­u­a­tion plans and air char­ter ser­vices that were un­able or un­will­ing to fly into the re­gion to trans­port se­ri­ously ill pa­tients.

And it turns out there’s only one jet in the world — op­er­ated by a small pri­vate plane char­ter company in Ge­or­gia — with a spe­cial trans­port tube that al­lows med­i­cal per­son­nel to treat Ebola pa­tients while in flight.

The At­lanta-based Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion helped de­velop the “air trans­port bio-con­tain­ment unit” un­der a mul­ti­year project with the Phoenix Air Group in Ge­or­gia in 2006, but the agency later de­cided that it couldn’t af­ford to main­tain “standby” ca­pa­bil­ity, and so the equip­ment was ware­housed, con­tract records show.

It’s un­clear why CDC let the con­tract lapse. But as Ebola has spread, the sit­u­a­tion re­cently set

“I do think it’s re­mark­able ev­i­dence that if we take this [con­tract] at face value, which I have no rea­son not to, there is one air­plane, one bio-con­tain­ment unit, in the world that is re­ally good and safe for this kind of prob­lem. That is stun­ning. That prob­a­bly should not be the case.” — Hank Greely, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Law and the Bio­sciences at Stan­ford Univer­sity

off an ur­gent push by the State Depart­ment to se­cure the company’s ser­vices, which were highly sought after by health or­ga­ni­za­tions across the world.

While it was once at the beck and call of the CDC un­der a pre­vi­ous con­tract, the company re­cently had to be hired back by the State Depart­ment this year at a cost of nearly $5 mil­lion for a six-month sole-source con­tract.

“Had the depart­ment not moved very quickly to es­tab­lish its own ex­clu­sive con­tract, our ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion would have shifted, plac­ing [U.S. gov­ern­ment] per­son­nel and pri­vate cit­i­zens at risk,” State Depart­ment of­fi­cials wrote in the con­tract jus­ti­fi­ca­tion last month.

Hank Greely, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Law and the Bio­sciences at Stan­ford Univer­sity, said no­body took steps to pre­pare for this kind of Ebola out­break be­cause all pre­vi­ous out­breaks had burned them­selves out so fast.

“I do think it’s re­mark­able ev­i­dence that if we take this [con­tract] at face value, which I have no rea­son not to, there is one air­plane, one bio-con­tain­ment unit, in the world that is re­ally good and safe for this kind of prob­lem,” Mr. Greely said of the con­tract doc­u­ment.

“That is stun­ning. That prob­a­bly should not be the case.”

Though hardly a house­hold name, the Cartersville, Ge­or­giabased Phoenix was well known to health of­fi­cials across the globe. As the virus spread, of­fi­cials from the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, U.N. and Bri­tain, among oth­ers, all ap­proached Phoenix to sign ex­clu­sive deals, records show.

Kather­ine Har­mon, di­rec­tor of health in­tel­li­gence for risk man­age­ment firm iJET, said that once Western na­tions saw how African coun­tries were los­ing con­trol in the fight against Ebola, “every­body was after this air­craft.”

Even be­fore the con­tract, Phoenix trans­ported two Americans — Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Write­bol — from Africa to the U.S. after the State Depart­ment, which is re­spon­si­ble for the evac­u­a­tion of Americans over­seas, asked for its help on a “hu­man­i­tar­ian” ba­sis, records show.

But State Depart­ment of­fi­cials said the trans­porta­tion of Ebola pa­tients car­ries too much cor­po­rate risk and in­ter­na­tional co­or­di­na­tion to pro­vide the ser­vice out­side of the pro­tec­tion of a fed­eral con­tract, ac­cord­ing to the con­tract doc­u­ment.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials said in the doc­u­ment that they had only two choices — use Phoenix or leave the per­son where they can’t get care — given re­cent CDC guide­lines con­cern­ing the trans­port of “asymp­to­matic con­tacts” that re­quire un­prece­dented con­trol and co­or­di­na­tion.

The State Depart­ment hir­ing doc­u­ment also said the De­fense Depart­ment has its own “trans­port tube,” but once sealed inside, the pa­tient is iso­lated from med­i­cal care.

The sole-source jus­ti­fi­ca­tion used to hire Phoenix also de­tails some of the chal­lenges in re­spond­ing to the Ebola cri­sis. The lack of med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion ser­vice alone has left the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity hard-pressed to re­cruit staff to re­spond in Africa, while com­mer­cial air­lines are can­cel­ing routes en­tirely. Air­line stocks were big losers on Wall Street Wed­nes­day be­cause of in­vestor fears the virus may force more flight can­cel­la­tions and travel re­stric­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.