I don’t think we have written about the spread of Ebola in West Africa, and I confess that I haven’t even thought much about this tragedy, other than to find it odd that President Obama is sending in troops to help deal with the matter. Fortunately, our friend Tevi Troy (along with Scott Gottlieb) has written an excellent piece for the Wall Street Journal about the inadequacy of the response to this crisis. Tevi is president of the American Health Policy Institute and a former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services. Gottlieb is with AEI and was deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
The subtitle of the article gives you the flavor: “The slow response to the worsening crisis in Africa shows how vulnerable the U.S. is to bioterror or a pandemic.” The authors cite three respects in which the response has been inadequate.
First, 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.
Second, although Congress has passed measures to assist in the development and stockpiling of therapeutics to counter epidemics, there are not enough market-based rewards for innovation and risk-taking. Federal grants are awarded to offset the direct costs of development and manufacturing of medical countermeasures but not the true cost of risk-taking to develop novel approaches. No surprise there.
Third, and again this is not surprising, the World Health Organization “is more a politically-minded policy-making body than a relief agency.” While Ebola was spreading in West Africa, the WHO was mounting an international campaign to combat what the “grave concern” raised electronic cigarettes.
Under-reliance on market-based incentives and over-reliance on a politically-minded international body. Par for the course in the Age of Obama.
The authors conclude:
Thirteen years ago, soon after the 9/11 attacks, letters laced with anthrax killed five Americans. Just as 9/11 revealed the country’s vulnerabilities to terror attacks, the anthrax episode exposed the need for better routine surveillance and strategic stockpiling of key countermeasures against viral outbreaks or bioterror attacks.
We’re still far less prepared than we should be, and far more vulnerable than we’re admitting.