Cuts to USAID increase the likelihood of a major global pandemic

Apr 26, 2017 | Kevin Sullivan

With government program funding cuts and key positions left unfilled, the United States is critically unprepared to forestall the emergency of the next global pandemic. A corporation’s internal preparedness pandemic preparedness efforts just became significantly more important.

The Trump Administration is proposing a 25% funding cut at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Along with the funding cut, comes a new mandate to re-focus the Agency towards “promoting American interests abroad.” As a result, funding is being shifted away from USAID’s “Emerging Pandemic Threats program” – a boots-on-the-ground initiative that has served as a coordinating point for broad efforts to defeat highly pathogenic avian influenza, SARS, MERS-CoV, Ebola and many more dangerous diseases.

Budget reductions totally $1.2 billion will hit the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). At the CDC, funding cuts have been concentrated on occupational safety and public health preparedness efforts.

Alongside budget cuts, key preparedness and response positions remain unfilled. On the list of hundreds of unfilled key positions are almost all of the key players in both domestic and global pandemic preparedness and response. These include the Director of the CDC; USAID Assistant Director for Global Health; Department of Homeland Security’s Undersecretary for National Preparedness; FEMA’s Administrator and Deputy Administrator, Department of Health and Human Services’ Assistant Secretary for Preparedness & Response.

As the Washington Post has reported, President Trump’s National Security Council will not have a point person for global health security. This comes despite the fact that every administration since Reagan has faced multiple infectious disease threats.

Experts agree that the world is on the cusp of a massive, global pandemic. As CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently reported, “The big one is coming.” Highly pathogenic avian influenza is the leading candidate. A surge in human cases of H7N9 in Asia, a highly infectious strain that kills about 30% of all people infected, highlights the growing risk.

Risk from other, less-deadly diseases have the ability to create serious distributions in commerce. Consider the economic impact of Zika inside the United States:

  • With local transmission still occurring in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico, will corporate travelers refuse to leave their home office – even for domestic travel?
  • Should the expanding Yellow Fever outbreak in Brazil, create a second year of travel restrictions in the country?
  • With no permeant replacement for Dr. Thomas Frieden at the CDC, can Americans trust that the CDC will give them clear, timely guidance without the influence of political leaders?

What kind of emerging threats do individuals and corporate leaders need to be prepared for? “Five years ago, no one knew that we were on the cusp of an Ebola Outbreak,” says VIGILINT’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sean Siler. “Three years ago, no one was taking about Zika. Tracking and analyzing emerging threats across the world is a full-time endeavor. Unfortunately, we cannot always rely on the government to give us critical information in a timely manner. Much of the U.S. Government’s response is slowed by our highly-politicized environment and the need to be 120% certain of the science, but business leaders cannot wait that long for information. We’re still years away from knowing the full impact of Zika and yet we are already more than a year into our response.”