As an Ebola outbreak raises unmet challenges, we’re reading how politics drives public health

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While the World Health Organization’s announcement of an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo raised appropriate alarm, the recognition of and response to the disease following nine cases of illness with three deaths over the last several weeks represent some degree of progress. The outbreak is the eighth in the country that was known as Zaire when the virus was first recognized there in 1976, when nearly 90 percent of more than 300 people stricken died of the disease. But while rural outbreaks have been noted and reported more swiftly in the DCR, where an epidemic was contained within two months in 2014 during the height of the separate West Africa Ebola crisis, the potential for the virus to reach cities and wreak devastation across countries where resources to confront it remain limited. And while the West Africa crisis highlighted the threat of sexual transmission of virus for many months following the treatment of the last patient during an outbreak, resources for research and responses have only diminished, diverted to emergency Zika responses. With that in mind, we’re reading about the interplay between politics and public health.

Candidate to Lead the WHO Accused of Covering Up Epidemics – This balanced article examines a specific allegation that a former Ethiopia health minister now running to lead the World Health Organization did not report outbreaks of cholera that occurred in his country on his watch, but, more importantly highlights the role of politics in reluctance to broadcast public health threats. Stemming from fear of travel and trade restrictions, and as Donald McNeil puts it here, “simply as a matter of national pride,” it is a factor credited with slowing WHO’s response to the West Africa Ebola crisis, and continuing to allow public health threats to go unchallenged now.

Politics and Plague – While the world remains unready to prevent, detect, respond to, and end emerging and resurgent public health threats, this New York Times Retro report shows it doesn’t have to be that way . . . and how an earlier success has gone unmatched.

Americans lose when funds for global health research are cut – This opinion piece by former  pediatric HIV researcher Jennifer Slyker, describes one economical answer to disease outbreaks in the work of the National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center to build health response capacities and knowledge at home and abroad. The center’s dividends in American scientific leadership and preparedness, notes Slyker, herself a former Fogarty fellow, far exceed the investment of its funding, but are threatened under the Trump administration’s budget outline.

Ebola Outbreak Reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo – This report from Helen Branswell of STAT highlights a product of investing in public health progress and responses. For the first time since the discovery of Ebola, a vaccine, developed during the response to the West Africa outbreak, exists, is stockpiled and is ready for distribution through the public-private GAVI partnership.

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