Tags: Ebola Outbreak | Ebola | Africa | Viral | Outbreak

Officials: US, World Ill-Prepared, Too Vulnerable to Pandemic

By    |   Wednesday, 17 September 2014 01:49 PM

The rapid spread of the Ebola virus through West Africa is revealing that the United States and the rest of the world are ill-prepared and too vulnerable to the threat of pandemic viral outbreaks or bioterrorism, two former government officials warn.

"In the case of Ebola, we were late to the battle and are now focused too narrowly on places like Liberia while failing to see West Africa as one big outbreak," Doctors Scott Gottlieb and Tevi Troy write in an opinion column for The Wall Street Journal.

And while the world is finally mobilizing and President Barack Obama has ordered a 3,000-person relief effort in the African areas hit hardest, "the world is still dangerously ill-prepared for the fight against pandemic outbreaks," they write.

Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration deputy commissioner from 2005-2007, is an American Enterprise Institute resident fellow who also advises medical-products companies. Troy is president of the American Health Policy Institute and a former health and Human Services deputy secretary.

Part of the problem is that health officials "remain too dependent on outdated tools and strategies in fighting the virus, and are tethered to an effort not yet scaled to the challenge," they wrote.

And while Ebola and its symptoms are frightening, it may still be contained, they warn, there are still many other deadly threats that could emerge at any time, including MERS, SARS, avian flu and more, the doctors said.

For example, Enterovirus 68 has put about 300 children in the Midwest in the hospital with respiratory distress, and it has no available antiviral therapy or vaccinations, they said.

There have been "shortfalls" in three areas when it comes to dealing with Ebola, said the experts. The true reach of the outbreak was not gauged; therapeutic medicines were not deployed in time, and sufficient equipment and medical personnel did not arrive.

"Fighting deadly diseases requires early detection and a clear understanding of the magnitude of an evolving threat," Gottlieb and Troy wrote. "In West Africa we drastically underestimated the timing and scope of Ebola's transmission and still can't accurately measure the magnitude of its spread."

The same thing happened during the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak they said, because health organizations did not quickly detect the problem.

But new screening technology and detection methods, even spikes in Google searches, can help sound alerts, the doctors said.

"We also need to develop better coordinated, real-time responses among national health bureaucracies that are often slow to respond and do not communicate effectively among one another," they wrote.

Another issue is that federal grant money is targeted to offset the costs to develop and manufacture medications, but not the cost of taking risks to develop new approaches, they said.

Congress in 2004 passed "Project Bioshield" to finance medical countermeasures against bioterrorism, and the effort was joined in 2013 with the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act. Still, "dangerous gaps remain," Gottlieb and Troy wrote.

"The Bioshield grants are used by some small biotechs to offset the costs of existing drug programs," they said. "Many companies repurpose drugs they already have on the shelf toward biodefense uses, hoping that their product might eventually make it into government stockpiles, generating a bigger return."

The doctors also accused the World Health Organization of being more about politics than relief efforts.

"The WHO claims that it lacked the resources to respond to Ebola, but while the outbreak was spiraling out of control in West Africa, the organization had plenty of time and money to mount an international campaign to combat what it flagged last month as a "grave concern," they said. "Not Ebola, but electronic cigarettes."

Instead, a logical enterprise with the United Nations or NATO, which could use public-health resources to pandemic threats to stop them in their tracks, would work better, and the United States needs to think about the issue domestically as well.

"If the Ebola pandemic were to come to the U.S., it is unclear who would lead the response: The Department of Health and Human Services has the expertise, but the Defense Department and Homeland Security have the assets," they said.

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The rapid spread of the Ebola virus through West Africa is revealing that the United States and the rest of the world are ill-prepared and too vulnerable to the threat of pandemic viral outbreaks or bioterrorism, two former government officials warn.
Ebola, Africa, Viral, Outbreak
Wednesday, 17 September 2014 01:49 PM
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