America can’t afford to cut money from its war against infectious diseases

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It’s true that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure, and it’s a critical lesson for Washington to remember as it considers budgeting for those who are our first line of defense against infectious diseases. 

While terrorism and natural disasters generate the most headlines, the terrifying reality is that an infectious disease could do more to kill millions of Americans and others around the world if the United States does not solidify its commitment to be a world leader in funding, studying and fighting infectious disease.

{mosads}This week, my colleagues and I will meet in Washington to discuss the government response to last year’s Zika outbreak and the specter of other emerging threats. At the top of our priority list is convincing Washington that this is one area where neither America nor the world can afford dramatic cuts; not if we want to avoid widespread outbreaks and public health crises.


And while hyperbole is always in fashion in our nation’s capital, it is no exaggeration to say that millions of lives are at stake. 

Current proposals would do untold amounts of damage to our defenses and leave us dangerously vulnerable to Zika, Ebola or the next horrifying disease. And make no mistake: While we don’t know what it is or where it’s coming from yet, there will be another disease like this. It is imperative for the future of humanity that we detect it quickly and be prepared to deal with it swiftly.

According to Modern Healthcare magazine, President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would cut $5.8 billion from the National Institute of Health, and full repeal of the Affordable Care Act would mean eliminating the Centers for Disease Control’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, which was created under the law. That fund accounts for 12 percent of the agency’s annual budget. 

The magazine noted in April that “a loss of that funding would mean slashing $40 million from the CDC’s Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Infectious Disease Cooperative Agreement program, or ELC, which provides funding to public health laboratories around the country to quickly respond to emerging infectious disease threats.” 

This is akin to sending a budget to the Pentagon that eliminates funding for troop training, weapons and ammunition. Does that sound like a good way to win a war?

What’s more, these budget cuts would have a ripple effect on the resources available at our public institutions of higher learning, where dedicated scientists and researchers like my colleagues at Purdue University work tirelessly to ensure that the United States and the world is prepared for the next dangerous outbreak.

While Americans are often understandably concerned about government spending and waste, this funding is the very definition of good and necessary government. And “America First” might be good policy in some areas, but when it comes to public health, an outbreak in Nairobi, Delhi or Beijing is just as dangerous as an outbreak in Dallas. Our world is deeply connected, and unfortunately there is no wall big enough to keep out infectious diseases.

But budgeting for prevention and the study of infectious diseases is about more than just dollars and cents devoted to a critical mission that saves lives. It’s also about sending a signal to the world and to the scientists and researchers of the future.

Fully funding these efforts makes clear — both to the world and to the students who could be fighting disease someday soon — that combating emerging threats is a national priority and that the United States is committed to leading the world in this arena.

Recently, media reports alarmingly noted that hurricane season is getting under way without a FEMA director of NOAA head in place. While that prospect is concerning, it is exponentially more troubling that the president does not yet have a science advisor who can inform him of the need for adequately resourced preparation for infectious diseases and emerging threats. 

Appointing a science advisor who recognizes the danger posed by emerging threats is a vital step for the president to take to keep Americans safe, and I implore him to make such a hire an immediate priority.

Disease prevention and preparing for emerging threats are two areas that we simply cannot risk ending up in the endless partisan crossfire of Washington. Those drafting budget proposals should remember that, if nothing else, an ounce of prevention is a lot cheaper in the long run than scrambling to create a pound of cure. 

Richard J. Kuhn is the Director, Purdue Institute of Inflammation, Immunology, and Infectious Disease, Purdue University

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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