By: Adam Roberts, CEO Rotarian Action Group for Hepatitis Eradication
There are times to rely on government to help: citizens can be assisted by city council decisions, state legislature decisions, U.S. Congress decisions, even international Treaty or multilateral aid agency decisions.
But when governments stall, when they abrogate their responsibilities, it is up to the citizenry to push back for change and to step in to fill the void. It may be a matter, quite literally, of life or death.
When the U.S. Congress considers its budget priorities for fiscal year 2019, it will be reviewing a proposal from the Trump Administration that slashes spending on detecting disease outbreaks worldwide. The focus of these cuts was an ambitious program launched in 2014 called the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), which was aimed at fighting disease outbreaks – think Ebola; think SARS.
Cutting about two-thirds from this program, as proposed, would cause significant down-sizing at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and even some national programs around the world closing down completely. I’m not one for cliché, but it seems an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Why reduce the effort to identify and stop deadly disease outbreaks and instead wait passively for the next epidemic to ensue?
As Dr. Paul Spiegel of Johns Hopkins University told NPR, the United States could end up spending more money controlling an outbreak than we would have preventing it. Not to mention we have already invested large amounts in training and development of these programs around the world, and to back out now would be to essentially throw out our investment.
The CDC and others have long been helping other countries respond to disease outbreaks. What has been special and innovative about the GHSA is that it supports other countries in the detection of these outbreaks early on. It is collaborative, effective, and saves lives.
In today’s world of globalization, every disease is one person on a plane away from arriving in the U.S. When one country is at risk for an epidemic, we all are. Also, infectious disease outbreaks are on the rise both in America and around the world.
Then there’s the human aspect. There are real lives at stake that we have an opportunity to save. In Pakistan, one of the many countries participating in the program, children have been identified as a vulnerable population and vaccinated in large numbers against a number of diseases, including hepatitis B. In Ethiopia, the program trains engineers in biosafety, an improvement that is helping keep workers safe from hepatitis B and other diseases.
The Rotarian Action Group for Hepatitis Eradication is working to test and treat people across the globe for hepatitis (specifically hepatitis B and C) in an effort to provide on-the-ground support in developing countries. We know that it takes every tool in the toolbox to fight hepatitis and stop the incidences of positive cases and deaths globally. But we can’t do it alone. Governments, non-governmental organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and others must work together – with equal commitment and vigor – to eliminate viral hepatitis and protect people across the globe from deadly disease outbreaks.
Maintenance of GHSA funding is vital for safety, economic, and moral reasons. Congress still has the power to reinstate these funds. Let’s all hope they recognize the moral imperative and urgency of doing so.
Imagining a day free of hepatitis C,