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Ebola Hearing Highlights Global Health Investment Payoffs, Ongoing Needs

The Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee’s hearing on the continuing Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo brought the unprecedented challenges posed by the current outbreak, as well as the responses needed before policymakers Thursday. Most concerning was evidence that in the sixth month of an ongoing international response, the outbreak, remains largely uncontrolled. The reasons, as highlighted in testimony from public health, global development and biomedical research leaders, include active military and civil strife in the affected areas, that, while unprecedented in previous Ebola outbreaks, has long been a factor recognized to raise risks of infectious disease spread worldwide.

In the face of that challenge, U.S. investments in biomedical research and global health security have made a pivotal difference. The yield from those investments include a vaccine that has been administered to more than 87,000 people, including health workers, providing protection that was not available to the more than 500 front line medical providers who lost their lives to the virus during the 2014-to-2016 West Africa outbreak. In addition, efforts building surveillance and preparedness in neighboring countries are in place, greatly reducing the likelihood of the cross border spread that characterized the gravest challenges during the West Africa crisis.

Still, as of Thursday’s hearing at least 922 cases of Ebola across 20 DRC health zones had taken at least 584 lives, including those of 25 health workers. Many of the cases came to the attention of responders only when they had already resulted in death. In addition, testimony at the hearing reiterated the continuing threats posed by the growing global spread of antimicrobial resistance, and the inevitable threats of emerging infectious diseases.

Following a White House budget proposal calling for drastic cuts to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to its Center for Global Health, to the National Institutes of Health, the National Center for Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases and its Antibiotic Resistance Solutions Initiative, as well as to global HIV and tuberculosis responses, Thursday’s hearing highlighted the value of those investments. The Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association will continue to call for strong and sustained funding for the public health and research responses needed to prevent, detect and respond to infections where they originate, and ensure domestic and global health security.

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