Ebola Missteps Despite Billions of Tax Dollars

Click here for my latest video report on Ebola. Written version below. Click link below to hear global health expert Larry Gostin weigh in on use of Ebola as terrorist weapon and other Ebola questions. (Click “national” on the right side of the page and, on the menu, click “A Global Health Expert Goes One on One”) WASHINGTON (WJLA) – Since 2002, the U.S. government has given local health departments more than $9 billion tax dollars for emergency readiness. Billions more have gone to hospital preparedness and related efforts. So why has the U.S. Ebola response been marred by critical missteps? CDC Director Thomas Frieden has exuded confidence since diagnosis the first U.S. case of Ebola. “I have no doubt that we will control this importation or case of Ebola so it does not spread widely in this country,” says Frieden. But confidence has been pierced by the CDC’s wavering protocols and assurances, as one case has grown to four.

Founding Linda D. & Timothy J. O’Neill Professor of Global Health Law; Faculty Director, O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law; Director, World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law & Human Rights, University Professor
Lawrence Gostin, Director, World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law & Human Rights, Georgetown University Professor

“At the state, local and even federal level, there have been a series of missteps that literally we cannot allow to happen again,” says Larry Gostin, a global health expert and Georgetown University law professor who is advising Obama officials on Ebola. Those missteps range from a Texas hospital discharging Liberian Thomas Duncan while ill, to isolating his close contacts in his contaminated house, to an ill-prepared health care system that allowed infection of two nurses, he points out. “And then, of course, one of the nurses who did contract the Ebola virus boarded an airplane! Another lapse in judgment,” he says. At a hearing last week, a nurses’ union official warned Congress that serious gaps remain. Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United, testified that “85 percent of the nurses (nationwide) say they are not adequately trained and the level of preparation for Ebola in our facilities is insufficient.” All that despite billions of tax dollars spent. In 2006 alone, Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security an extra $47 million dollars for pandemic readiness. But a new audit by Inspector General John Roth found the agency didn’t know what equipment it had, where it was stored or if it even worked. Nearly all of the Transportation Security Administration’s 200,000 respirators are expired. “In fact, the department believes their entire stockpile of personal protective equipment will not be usable after 2015,” says Roth. Top Congressional Democrat Elijah Cummings, of Maryland, says the bureaucracy is learning from its mistakes. “It appears health care officials have come a long way in preparing for Ebola since Thomas Duncan first walked into a Texas hospital last month,” Cummings says Gostin says he’s hopeful Ebola will be limited in the U.S., but says the CDC must provide better leadership and prevent a patchwork response in U.S. cities that have no experience with such a virulent and lethal virus.

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