Ebola Epidemic Should Be Considered from a National Security Perspective

By | December 11, 2014

Former Congressman Ron Dellums

As of December 3, 2014, the worst recorded outbreak of Ebola has claimed 6,055 lives in the countries of West Africa, upending decades of medical progress across the region and eradicating people’s already fragile faith in their healthcare system. Here in the U.S., a region of the world previously untouched by the rare infectious disease, American citizens face a reality in which our healthcare system must be prepared to face the already realized threat of this super-pathogen, during the first Ebola epidemic the world has known.

This global health crisis has infiltrated the borders of our country and presents an immediate threat here at home, leaving the U.S. grappling with one death, and two cases of infected healthcare workers domestically. The CDC has issued new guidelines to hospitals and healthcare providers, to help guide these institutions to provide care in their communities. According to the CDC, there are now 36 treatment centers across the U.S. designated to treat Ebola, increased from just three a few months ago. These and other healthcare facilities across the country have stepped up to the plate to accommodate and implement the new guidelines, including conducting staff training and drills, and upgrading safety and procedure protocols to combat the virulent threat of Ebola.

To provide the highest level of patient care and hospital staff safety, additional changes must be made, including the acquisition of new medical equipment and personal protective equipment, the renovation of hospital facilities and more extensive training for healthcare providers and hospital staff. These changes are costly and exceed the budgets of the majority of hospitals. President Obama has requested $6.2 billion in special funding to combat and contain the deadly disease in West Africa and here in the U.S. It is imperative that a portion of this funding bypass the red tape typically synonymous with bureaucratic channels, and go directly to hospitals to ensure those institutions on the front lines of the fight against the disease here in the U.S. are adequately prepared to provide patients and hospital staff with the highest level of quality care and treatment.

The financial costs for hospitals already treating Ebola are exorbitant- skyrocketing into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for each patient, each day. These costs include money for monitoring patients, treatment and labor costs. For example, waste treatment and disposal, a crucial facet of successfully containing the disease, can cost up to $100,000 a day, per patient. Hospitals cannot be expected to carry the financial burden of meeting the demands of caring for these cases with specialized circumstances without the appropriate funding. Hospitals must be financially equipped to adapt to and face this new challenge.

A coalition letter signed by NAACP, The National Black Chamber of Commerce, the Constituency for Africa, Alveda King, King Ministries, and the National Minority Quality Forum outlines this urgent need for funding, and highlights the dearth of funds hospitals are already trying to cope with. According to the letter, “Existing appropriations are not adequate. The Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), the primary federal program for hospital emergency preparedness, has been cut to bare bones. Ten years ago, the program received $515 million in annual appropriations. Today, the program receives less than half that amount – $255 million. The President’s FY 2015 budget requested no increase for the program.” Hospitals must not be expected to face emergency medical situations, like Ebola, with slashed budgets and waning financial resources.

The Ebola epidemic is still raging, and according to the World Health Organization, is growing exponentially. Public health in the Unites States is of the upmost importance, and the protection from and containment of this deadly disease should be this country’s first priority. As a former public officials who have served at the federal, and local level I trust that our nation’s leaders in Congress will take action to allocate the desperately needed funding to go directly to the hospitals that need it most on the front lines of this epidemic here at home.

Ron Dellums served as a Democratic Congressman from California’s 9th district from 1971-1998, and as Chairman House Armed Services Committee. Dellums previously chaired the William J. Clinton and served on the George W. Bush Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and is currently the co-chair of the Health Disparities Working Group.