The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) operational interventions were key to ending the West Africa Ebola outbreak.
About two weeks ago, an internal memo leaked from the CDC informing personnel that the center was anticipating a loss of approximately 80% of its funding for international outbreak prevention work. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported in more detail that starting in September 2019, the CDC will narrow its focus and eliminate many of its foreign country programs.
The CDC works overseas in two different ways. It funds programming that it is implemented by international NGOs and companies that support disease surveillance and preparedness, and it works government-to-government with health agencies and departments that fight infectious disease.
The programming that CDC supports around the world does things like improve the capacity of national laboratories to diagnoses illnesses like HIV, TB, Hepatitis, and Zika. It helps countries build better national disease surveillance systems so that they can catch outbreaks early and stop them before they turn epidemic. And it builds health information systems, so data can be shared across regions, and internationally.
The government-to-government relationships are equally important. CDC’s role as the lead US government institution on epidemiology gives it unique status and credibility overseas. Their US role means that foreign counterparts recognize them as colleagues and treat them accordingly.
From October 2019, CDC will support overseas programs in only ten countries. By contract, in October 2017, CDC was operational in 124 countries. That’s a massive decrease. This 80% to CDC”s foreign operations cut may save some money in the short term, but it comes at the expense of enhanced security and possibly the health of Americans in the homeland.