Congress should create a rapid-response fund to combat deadly infectious diseases such as Zika and Ebola that threaten public health, Rep. Vern Buchanan said today.
Buchanan said this fund would allow the nation’s top disease fighters to respond immediately to disease outbreaks instead of waiting for a dysfunctional Congress to act. Buchanan’s home state of Florida was ground zero for the Zika virus last year and he had to fight for federal resources for nearly a year before funding was made available.
Buchanan led a group of 20 bipartisan members of Congress last week in sending a letter to the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies urging the creation of a $300 million fund designed to respond swiftly to disease outbreaks.
“We can’t afford to be caught flat-footed when a public health crisis hits,” Buchanan said in his letter, which was signed by 13 members of Florida’s delegation. “Every minute counts when it comes to saving lives and stopping the next pandemic.”
Similar to the disaster relief fund used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the wake of a natural disaster, under Buchanan’s plan, the federal government should have a dedicated source of funding immediately available to mobilize a response to infectious disease outbreaks, such as Ebola and Zika.
The nation’s top public health experts strongly support the creation of this type of fund.
In an August 2016 interview, then-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Tom Frieden said: “I think the big picture is, we definitely need something like this. It’s crucially important that we have resources to respond rapidly. Epidemics move at one speed — Congress clearly moves at a different speed.”
According to Dr. Frieden, “in a public health emergency, speed is critical. A day, a week, a month, can make all of the difference… Three months in an epidemic is an eternity.”
Full text of the letter can be found below.
Dear Chairman Cole and Ranking Member DeLauro:
The federal government should be prepared to fight emerging infectious diseases as quickly as possible.
According to Dr. Thomas Frieden, an infectious disease expert and the former of head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “in a public health emergency, speed is critical. A day, a week, a month, can make all of the difference… Three months in an epidemic is an eternity.”
In the last decade alone, we have faced serious threats from H1N1 in 2009, MERS in 2012, Ebola in 2014, and of course the deadly Zika virus last year. Even worse, many have forewarned of future epidemics that could be spread by airborne transmission and therefore be far more contagious than Ebola or Zika.
And just this month Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases warned that the African yellow fever epidemic could soon spread to the United States.
Furthermore, many experts have concluded that the world will face new infectious diseases with rising frequency due to the increased globalization of people, travel and food. As Ron Klain, the previous administration’s Ebola Response Coordinator, famously asserted, “From now on, dangerous epidemics are going to be a regular fact of life” – a scary thought to say the least.
This is not only an urgent public health concern, it is a matter of national security. As former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper noted, “infectious diseases and vulnerabilities in the global supply chain for medical countermeasures will continue to pose a danger to U.S. national security.”
A fund for federal emergency response is not a new concept. In fact, for over four decades, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has drawn on the Disaster Relief Fund to help Americans quickly recover from hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters. These funds allow FEMA to coordinate relief efforts and provide immediate aid and support to those affected.
The federal government should have a similar dedicated source of funding immediately available to mobilize a response to infectious disease outbreaks here in the U.S.
We cannot afford to be caught flat-footed or constrained in our ability to respond and provide aid in a timely and comprehensive manner when the next public health crisis emerges.
Therefore, as you begin work on the fiscal year fiscal year 2018 Labor, Health and Human Services funding bill, we respectfully ask that you provide $300 million in reserve funding for the federal government to be able to immediately access to contain and eradicate future infectious disease epidemics.
While it was never signed into law, we were encouraged to see that your subcommittee included funding for a similar reserve last year. We thank you for your consideration of this request, and for your leadership on the committee.