Global health experts warn ‘you should be freaking out’ about the CDC’s cuts to disease prevention

The CDC's scaling back disease prevention in 39 countries, including Congo. Last year, the country experienced an Ebola outbreak.

TOPSHOT - worker walks at an Ebola quarantine unit on June 13, 2017 in Muma, after a case of Ebola was confirmed in the village.
(CREDIT: JOHN WESSELS/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - worker walks at an Ebola quarantine unit on June 13, 2017 in Muma, after a case of Ebola was confirmed in the village. (CREDIT: JOHN WESSELS/AFP/Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) dwindling pot of money aimed at fighting infectious-disease epidemics like Ebola will run out this year, and the agency doesn’t anticipate new dedicated funds. So the CDC is scaling back epidemic prevention work in 39 countries, and this has experts, including a United Nations Dispatch on Friday, saying “you should be freaking out.”

The United States currently partners with 49 countries to address the global vulnerabilities to public health threats. The global health security agenda’s mission is clear: “ensure that a trained workforce has the tools needed to prevent, detect, and respond rapidly and effectively to infectious disease threats.”

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The partnership has made significant progress: eight countries expanded surveillance systems to include more vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, 12 countries trained community members to detect and report potential health threats, and 17 countries started or expanded epidemiology training programs.

Congress gave the CDC $600 million for the initiative after the Ebola pandemic exposed major weakness in the global capability to address outbreaks. The agency now has about $150 million left for the initiative, a senior government official told the Washington Post. The funds will exhaust in 2019, and the agency doesn’t expect the Trump administration to dedicate additional budgetary resources. So last month, CDC began notifying staffers abroad to downsize activities, the Wall Street Journal first reported.  On Thursday, Washington Post reported notices are now being issued to country directors.

The CDC is reportedly scaling back first in China, Pakistan, Haiti, Rwanda, and Congo. Last year, the World Health Organization confirmed an Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo, the first since 2014. But CDC-trained officials and rapid responders helped contain it fast. China is also undergoing a severe bird flu outbreak, which researchers believe could trigger a global pandemic. The senior government official told the Post that the CDC will instead focus on 10 “priority countries” in 2019: Guatemala, India, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Thailand, Uganda, and Vietnam.

“This 80% to CDC”s foreign operations cut may save some money in the short term, but it comes at the expense of enhanced security and possibly the health of Americans in the homeland,” wrote Alanna Shaikh, for UN Dispatch.

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The Department of Health and Human Services and the National Security Council are asking for more funding in the president’s fiscal 2019 budget, which is set to be out next month. But in the meantime, global health security funding sits in limbo.