With the number of Zika cases in Florida continuing to rise and public health officials predicting the number of locally transmitted cases in our country to reach the hundreds by fall, it is clear that now more than ever we need a concrete plan with proper funding to tackle this virus. By all accounts, we can consider Congress out in helping us achieve this goal. Legislators left for summer break in mid-July without passing any emergency-funding requests, and won’t be back to work until after Labor Day as our citizens wage a daily battle against this virus in their own backyards.
An interesting idea on how to address this issue came forward from the campaign trail Wednesday, when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton pitched a public health fund that would make money readily available year-round to address health crises, without having to rely on bickering Washington. Clinton’s “Public Health Rapid Response Fund” would provide the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Health and Human Services Department and local health departments and hospitals with funding through year-to-year budgets.
“The United States faces new threats to public health, from pandemic disease like those caused by the Ebola and the Zika viruses, to the risk of biological weapons and bioterrorism, to long-term challenges like more extreme weather and expanding ranges for Lyme disease and water-borne illnesses as a result of climate change,” Clinton said in a statement. “And in a global economy, diseases like SARS, MERS, and avian influenza cannot be contained in their countries of origin.”
She’s right, but she’s also missing a key point about where the funding for this plan should come from. Let us be clear about the recent health crises that America has faced: Ebola did not start in the U.S., it came from Africa; Zika did not begin in Florida, it started in South America; SARS didn’t first appear in the U.S., it came from China. Clinton cites our global economy and acknowledges that countries cannot contain the viruses within their own borders and she’s right, but it should also be reason enough to call on other industrialized countries to contribute to this fund, and tweak it to make it an all-inclusive program.
The world already benefits from the success of the CDC in the form of available vaccines and research, so why should the American taxpayer continue to foot the medical bills for the rest of the world?
The monies of this fund should be directed to the CDC, the only health agency in the world with the capability and manpower to tackle these health crises and responsibly allocate funds toward research and relief. We have seen how clumsy the United Nations (U.N.) and World Health Organization (WHO) governing bodies are with budgets, and when our global health is on the line we cannot afford errors, nor can we afford to fight these battles alone.
Clinton preaches that we must work with our international partners and create bridges of connectivity around the world and I agree, but I also think that this public health fund could create a solid foundation for us to achieve those same goals. With Clinton’s campaign predicting that the fund would cost several billion dollars over 10 years, and Congress unable to find the $1.9 billion that President Obama requested to fight Zika back in February, it’s time for other countries to stop reaping our benefits and ante up.