Ebola epidemic should be considered from a national security perspective

As of December 3, 2014, the worst recorded outbreak of Ebola has claimed 6055 lives in the countries of West Africa, upending decades of medical progress across the region and eradicating people’s already fragile faith in their healthcare system. Here in the U.S., a region of the world previously untouched by the rare infectious disease, American citizens face a reality in which our healthcare system must be prepared to face the already realized threat of this super-pathogen, during the first Ebola epidemic the world has known.

This global health crisis has infiltrated the borders of our country and presents an immediate threat here at home, leaving the U.S. grappling with one death, and two cases of infected healthcare workers domestically. The CDC has issued new guidelines to hospitals and healthcare providers, to help guide these institutions to provide care in their communities. According to the CDC, there are now 36 treatment centers across the U.S. designated to treat Ebola, increased from just three a few months ago. These and other healthcare facilities across the country have stepped up to the plate to accommodate and implement the new guidelines, including conducting staff training and drills, and upgrading safety and procedure protocols to combat the virulent threat of Ebola.

To provide the highest level of patient care and hospital staff safety, additional changes must be made, including the acquisition of new medical equipment and personal protective equipment, the renovation of hospital facilities and more extensive training for healthcare providers and hospital staff. These changes are costly and exceed the budgets of the majority of hospitals.
Understanding the high cost of combating the Ebola virus in Africa and here at home, Congressional Appropriators included vital funding for those efforts. I urge the U.S. Congress to swiftly pass the FY15 Appropriations package so that these funds can get to the front lines to fight this global health crisis. We cannot play politics with human lives.

Further, I urge CDC and HHS to quickly get these funds directly to hospitals to ensure those institutions on the front lines of the fight against the disease here in the U.S. are adequately prepared to provide patients and hospital staff with the highest level of quality care and treatment.

The financial costs for hospitals already treating Ebola are exorbitant- skyrocketing into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for each patient, each day. These costs include money for monitoring patients, treatment and labor costs. For example, waste treatment and disposal, a crucial facet of successfully containing the disease, can cost up to $100,000 a day, per patient. Hospitals cannot be expected to carry the financial burden of meeting the demands of caring for these cases with specialized circumstances without the appropriate funding. Hospitals must be financially equipped to adapt to and face this new challenge.

A coalition letter signed by NAACP, The National Black Chamber of Commerce, the Constituency for Africa, Alveda King, King Ministries, and the National Minority Quality Forum outlines this urgent need for funding, and highlights the dearth of funds hospitals are already trying to cope with. According to the letter, “Existing appropriations are not adequate. The Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), the primary federal program for hospital emergency preparedness, has been cut to bare bones. Ten years ago, the program received $515 million in annual appropriations. Today, the program receives less than half that amount – $255 million. The President’s FY 2015 budget requested no increase for the program.” Hospitals must not be expected to face emergency medical situations, like Ebola, with slashed budgets and waning financial resources.

The Ebola epidemic is still raging, and according to the World Health Organization, is growing exponentially. Public health in the United States is of the upmost importance, and the protection from and containment of this deadly disease should be this country’s first priority. As a former public officials who have served at the federal, and local level I trust that our nation’s leaders in Congress will take action to allocate the desperately needed funding to go directly to the hospitals that need it most on the front lines of this epidemic here at home.

Dellums served in the House from 1971-1998. , and as Chairman House Armed Services Committee. He previously chaired the William J. Clinton Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and served on the George W. Bush Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. He is currently the co-chair of the Health Disparities Working Group.

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Dan Mullin is an active writer and editor for the Pluto Daily who covered the 2014 Ebola Outbreak. Mullin attended the Wake Forest School of Medicine before leaving to pursue his lifelong science goal of allowing humans to live forever via a computer/brain transfer.