Obama tran­si­tion team was ad­vised to boost global dis­ease net­work in 2008

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JIM MCELHATTON

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol told the in­com­ing Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2008 that it should es­tab­lish 18 re­gional dis­ease de­tec­tion cen­ters around the world to ad­e­quately safe­guard the U.S. from emerg­ing health threats like Ebola, ac­cord­ing to an agency memo.

But six years later, as the gov­ern­ment strug­gles to con­tain the fall­out from a deadly Ebola out­break at home and abroad, the CDC still has only 10 cen­ters — and none of them op­er­ates in the western Africa re­gion hard­est hit by the deadly virus.

“The ex­ist­ing cen­ters have al­ready proven their ef­fec­tive­ness and im­pact on de­tect­ing and re­spond­ing to out­breaks in­clud­ing avian in­fluenza, afla­toxin poi­son­ing, Rift Val­ley fever, Ebola and Mar­burg virus out­breaks,” the CDC said in its memo to the Obama tran­si­tion team, which The Wash­ing­ton Times ob­tained through a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest.

At the time, the CDC had five cen­ters set up, and has only added five more of the 13 the agency had pro­posed “to com­plete the net­work and prop­erly pro­tect the na­tion.”

The memo sheds new light on the prob­lems deal­ing with the cur­rent Ebola cri­sis, which in­ten­si­fied with the rev­e­la­tions Wed­nes­day that a sec­ond Texas nurse had tested pos­i­tive for the dis­ease and Pres­i­dent Obama used a White House Cab­i­net meet­ing to prom­ise a “more ag­gres­sive” fed­eral re­sponse to the threat.

The CDC’s plan out­lined in the tran­si­tion memo was based on the no­tion that the U.S. shouldn’t wait for a dis­ease to en­ter the coun­try but rather mon­i­tor threats in hot spots over­seas to try to help lo­cal pub­lic health au­thor­i­ties con­trol out­breaks be­fore then.

The CDC didn’t re­spond to mes­sages seek­ing com­ment on its plans Wed­nes­day.

On its Web page, the agency said it has eight re­gional cen­ters run­ning, with another two in de­vel­op­ment.

Aside from de­tect­ing and mon­i­tor­ing dis­eases, the cen­ters also pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion to lo­cal pub­lic health au­thor­i­ties. Though the CDC op­er­ates three re­sponse cen­ters in Africa — in Kenya, Egypt and South Africa — none of those are based in the western parts of the con­ti­nent that have seen ma­jor Ebola out­breaks this year.

News on Wed­nes­day that another pa­tient in the U.S. — a sec­ond health care worker who treated an Ebola pa­tient in Texas — may be in­fected prompted calls for tight­ened travel re­stric­tions and at least a tem­po­rary travel ban for Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, in­clud­ing one from House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has so far re­jected those calls, with health of­fi­cials say­ing they fear the bans could pre­vent them from get­ting aid work­ers and med­i­cal as­sis­tance to and from Africa.

Mean­while, the fight over fund­ing for anti-Ebola ef­forts has turned po­lit­i­cal.

Fights over fund­ing

Five Demo­cratic House mem­bers on Wed­nes­day called for hear­ings into bud­get cuts at the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health and CDC.

The law­mak­ers said NIH has lost $1.2 bil­lion in fund­ing over the last four years and that a CDC pro­gram that sup­ports pub­lic work­ers was slashed 16 per­cent dur­ing the past four years, while a hos­pi­tal preparedness pro­gram lost 44 per­cent of its fund­ing.

“The CDC and the NIH are al­ready work­ing to com­bat the spread of Ebola,” said Rep. Michael M. Honda, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat. “In light of re­cent tragic de­vel­op­ments in Texas, and in the in­ter­ests of en­sur­ing pub­lic safety and trans­parency, we need an up­date from th­ese agen­cies so we can en­sure they have the proper fund­ing to pro­tect pa­tients, health care work­ers and the pub­lic at large.”

As the deadly virus con­tin­ues to spread, the CDC has sent dozens of dis­ease con­trol ex­perts into western Africa.

In a re­cent bud­get doc­u­ment, the agency also has said it’s seek­ing an ex­tra $45 mil­lion for global health se­cu­rity “to ac­cel­er­ate progress to­ward a world safe and se­cure from in­fec­tious dis­ease threats.”

But the agency’s own memo to the pres­i­dent’s tran­si­tion team high­lighted the need for beefed-up in­fec­tious dis­ease de­tec­tion and other pub­lic health ef­forts over­seas.

It also re­flects fund­ing con­cerns dur­ing the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Our in­vest­ment is mod­est,” the CDC memo stated, “but our ca­pac­ity in most crit­i­cal ar­eas has been eroded by bud­get at­tri­tion and in­creases in the cost of sci­ence, travel and in­fra­struc­ture support in re­cent years.”

The com­ments were in­cluded in the ap­pen­dix to the agency’s 128-page brief­ing memo to the tran­si­tion team.

That same por­tion of the re­port had been sent in 2007 to a House ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee over­see­ing

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