In case you missed it, a nurse in Texas who cared for the Ebola patient there has contracted the virus. This represents the first case of Ebola that was contracted in the US, and also represents evidence that the health system is not as prepared as it needs to be. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the few cases in the US, have already begun to be politicized. The effectiveness of the CDC in handling US ebola cases has been brought up, as have the impact of recent funding cuts to the CDC and NIH. NIH Director Francis Collins highlighted NIH research and the flatline in funding in a terrific interview on Huffington Post:
NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here. Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.
Collins also reaffirmed the low risk of ebola to Americans, and noted the use of ebola as a political tool (granted he used it a little bit as a political tool himself).
Certainly there’s been a lot of fear [in the] response from people who are probably at essentially zero risk, that this might somehow take over our country, which is really not going to happen. And despite all the assurances … it still hasn’t quite sunk in. There’s still the cable news people who are whipping this up, and frankly sometimes using it for political purposes to sort of shoot at the government.
With elections coming up in a month, the politicization of ebola is sure to continue. Already, Democrats are blaming Republicans for NIH and CDC budget cuts. In reality, both parties are to blame for these cuts, and the real answer is to support more scientific research across the board. One response to these comments includes an insane news article on Investors Business Daily, where the author includes a misleading graph of NIH and CDC budgets over the last decade (funny how different the graph looks with full axes with the decade before 2001). The article also includes a ridiculous and scientifically illiterate argument for what NIH funds.
Even if there has been some cutting here and there at these agencies, it’s not as if there isn’t plenty of fat to trim.
If the NIH was really so concerned about developing an Ebola vaccine, for example, it could have directed more grant money to that effort, rather than wasting it researching such things as diseases among male sex workers in Peru ($400,000), why chimps throw feces ($600,000) and sexual attraction among fruit flies (nearly $1 million).
Listing studies in this manner is wholly misleading of their scientific merit, and I would guess the author didn’t even examine the justification of each of these studies (which is publicly available). Before this outbreak, Ebola was essentially a non-threat. Even in this outbreak, it has impacted only a tiny fraction of people compared with hundreds of other diseases. Why would NIH throw a lot of money at it? The real answer is to fund more science, so small risks like ebola can be studied in case they turn into big risks.
To counter this ridiculous article, I include an equally ridiculous video from the Agenda Project. While I dislike that the video only targets Republican representatives, the message that funding cuts have hurt our response to Ebola is SPOT ON. Check it out!
‘Republican Cuts Kill,’ which was produced by the Agenda Project Action Fund, mixes disturbing footage of the Ebola outbreak—including images of body bags, hazmat suits, and corpses—with clips of Mitch McConnell, Pat Roberts, Rand Paul, and Republicans in some of the most competitive races around the country demanding more spending cuts. The demand for cuts is juxtaposed against testimony from top CDC and NIH officials detailing how budget cuts substantially hampered their ability to address the crisis.