Post-Sequester Caps Hamper Control of Infectious Diseases: Sen. Harkin

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education has called for an Omnibus bill providing sufficient resources to all federal agencies involved in the control of Ebola and other infectious diseases in the U.S. and overseas. To pay for this, Harkin calls for the lifting the post-sequester caps that return next year when the Murray-Ryan budget deal expires.

Cap Problem

According to Harkin, the post-sequester caps put the government “on autopilot, hampering the work of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] CDC and agencies on the frontlines of controlling Ebola. We must increase resources for CDC, not just to continue their work in the three countries most affected, but also to ramp up surveillance in the 11 countries surrounding the outbreak.”

More CDCs Needed

Harkin believes that every country needs a CDC and that the U.S. must help them develop their own. To that end, Harkin has championed the National Public Health Institutes (NPHI), which currently helps five countries around the world increase surveillance and laboratory and outbreak response capacity to improve the detection of public health threats. Harkin wants NPHI funding increased to expand the program to all 24 of the countries that wish to participate, including 11 in Africa.

CDC’s Role in NPHI

Through leadership and direct engagement with Ministry of Health officials, CDC and partners help countries develop a strategic plan aligned with public health priorities, determine necessary policy changes, create a sustainability plan, and execute a project which includes linking NPHIs with other established NPHIs or U.S. State Health Departments that can provide additional public health expertise. CDC’s role in NPHI emphasizes: (1) high impact investments to maximize an NPHI’s self-reliance; (2) the leveraging of existing partnerships; and (3) the sharing of scientific expertise through a time-limited engagement of 3 to 5 years.

On the Homefront

According to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) “we must take the deadly, dangerous threat of Ebola in West Africa as seriously as we take the ISIS threat in the Middle East. The spread of this disease requires a more urgent response from the U.S. and other countries.”Alexander urges President Obama to immediately: (1) begin screening at all U.S. airports any person who is traveling to the U.S. from one of the countries with an Ebola epidemic; and (2) designate a single cabinet member to coordinate the response among the agencies involved and the other countries of the world. The U.S. screening would be in addition to any screening received when they leave the country of outbreak.

Harkin believes that in the U.S. we need to: (1) better train doctors in what to look for; (2) strengthen our quarantine stations at the 20 busiest entry-points to the U.S.; (4) fund basic research for better future treatments; and (4) fund clinical trials for potential vaccines and therapies that are currently in the pipeline now.