During Al Jazeera America’s regular Sunday night segment The Week Ahead, Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior associate at the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told Thomas Drayton about the challenges involved in tracking where infectious diseases are occurring.
“Lots of local health departments don’t have the capacity to process that data or even have individuals to go out and do what we’re talking about with Ebola, doing case findings and contact tracing,” Adalja said.
“Those are essential public health functions that are really at risk because of funding cuts.”
Since the 2001 anthrax attacks, the CDC reported that federal funding for public health emergency preparedness each year has decreased by about $1 billion.
Also appearing on The Week Ahead was Dr. Alexander Garza, a former assistant secretary for health affairs and chief medical officer for the Department of Homeland Security. He said lawmakers often have a “reactionary” approach when it comes to infectious diseases.
“It’s very tough to get funding for things that haven’t happened yet,” he said.
Garza said Ebola’s high fatality rate has fed the public’s fear of the virus despite the fact that it is far less easily passed from person to person than other infectious diseases.
He argued that Americans should also be worried about enterovirus 68, a respiratory illness that has infected children in more than 40 states, not to mention the flu.
“Every year, you have an opportunity to be vaccinated against one of the largest killers of infectious disease,” he said, “and that’s influenza.”
In recent years, different strains of the flu virus have resulted in about 200,000 hospitalizations annually, according to the CDC — with complications from the flu killing as many as 49,000 people in three decades.
Adalja said that despite major advances in treating and containing infectious diseases over the years, Americans should not become complacent or assume that the U.S. has “closed the book on infectious diseases.”
“We’ve never closed it," he said. "And we won’t close it.”