When it comes to infectious disease outbreaks, the difference between a mild localized illness or a deadly worldwide plague may rest on the single protein of a microbe. And yet the U.S. is woefully unprepared for the next pandemic. We score only a 6.7 out of 10 on an independent assessment of our national preparedness.
Our nation's health security efforts are deeply fractured. Nobody has responsibility to design and implement a comprehensive national strategy, demand collaboration, align and scale agency-specific budgets to measurable outcomes, nor the authority to hold agencies accountable. Improving preparedness is not exclusively about increased resources. With the right leadership, existing resources could be better applied if redistributed in support of a national strategy.
The need to appoint an Ebola Czar during the response to 3 cases of Ebola in the U.S. was not an accident. It simply exposed the underlying lack of a senior national leader to provide oversight of our health security enterprise from prevention through response to recovery.
Bottom line: It's time for the White House to treat the threat of a global pandemic — which could kill hundreds of thousands of Americans and fundamentally disrupt our society — with the same respect as a foreign invasion, though microbe sized.
Other voices in the conversation:
- Anne Rimoin, epidemiologist, UCLA: We need to study outbreaks in real-time
- Jason Cone, USA executive director, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières': Governments play the greatest role in protecting people
- Peter Hotez, pediatrician and dean, National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine: Protect the "soft underbelly" of the U.S.