CDC’s Ability To Respond To Tuberculosis Scare Hampered By Bush’s Budget Cuts

bushpeekm.jpg A Georgia man with extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) “is now in an Atlanta hospital under federally enforced isolation” after recently taking two transatlantic flights, which might have exposed other passengers to the disease.

Though the man ignored requests by public health officials not to travel, the New York Times reports that “the episode also raised questions about how rapidly health officials could respond to a similar emergency with other deadly infectious diseases.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been instrumental in dealing with this recent TB case. President Bush has repeatedly lauded their work in public health. From 2001:

I believe — firmly believe that because of the good folks who work in this building and other buildings throughout Atlanta, Georgia, and throughout the country for CDC, that we’ve saved a lot of lives in America. … I’m going to talk about public health officials as part of being the new heroes of America. And that’s why I’ve come by today, to thank them.

Yet despite his rhetoric, Bush has repeatedly proposed slashing the CDC’s budget:

2002: Proposed a $174 million cut.

2003: Proposed a $1 billion cut, with no new funding for preventive health divisions working on TB.

2004: Proposed an increase of “less than 1 per cent.”

2005: Proposed a $263 million cut, while simultaneously proposing a $270 million increase in abstinence education.

2006: Proposed a $500 million cut which would have slashed grants to state and local health departments like the Fulton County Health and Wellness Department involved in this week’s TB-scare.

2007: Proposed a $179 million cut, in addition to unspecified plans for more CDC “savings.”

2008: Proposed a $37 million cut, including “massive funding cuts in proven health protection programs.”

In a report submitted to the House Appropriations Committee earlier this year, CDC Director Julie Gerberding warned that a TB outbreak could result from the administration’s proposed cuts. She noted that “emerging plagues such as drug-resistant tuberculosis represent ‘urgent threats that have become more prominent in the dawn of the 21st century.'”

Additionally, Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, points out that the full scale of the “erosion of [CDC’s] traditional disease control activities has been ‘masked’ by infusions of cash earmarked for spending on bioterrorism and pandemic activities.”

But even Bush’s myopic focus on terrorism does not appear to have paid off. The Department of Homeland Security has been unable to explain how the TB-infected man was able to simply drive into the United States on his return trip from Canada when “all border crossings had been given his name and told to hold him if he appeared.

UPDATE: The patient is now being treated in Denver.

Jordan Grossman