When people contemplate potential disasters ignited by the Trump administration's foreign policy, places like the South China Sea, Central Asia, or the Korean Peninsula come first to mind. Certainly a dustup with Beijing, Teheran or Pyongyang is a scary thing to contemplate. But the thing that should also keep people up at night is Washington's approach to international health organizations and the President's stubborn refusal to address climate change.
Bad bugs are coming, and they are stronger and nastier than they have ever been. A few -- like malaria and yellow fever -- are ancient nemeses, but they're increasingly immune to standard drugs and widening their reach behind a warming climate. Others -- like Ebola, SARS, MERS and Zika -- are new, exotic and fearsome. And antibiotic resistant bacteria threaten to turn the clock back to pre-penicillin days, when a cut could be a death sentence.
Trump's disdain for international agencies and treaties, plus cuts in public health programs, and a relaxation of regulations on the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry could create a worldwide medical catastrophe.
The President recently asked Congress to cut over $15 billion from health care, especially in the area of overseas response. On the very day that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an emergency over the latest Ebola outbreak, National Security Adviser John Bolton eliminated the National Security Agency's program for epidemic prevention.
As Laurie Garrett -- winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her writings on health care -- notes, Bolton's move "leaves the United States with no clear line of authority for responding to any outbreak of disease, whether naturally arising or as an act of bio-terrorism," adding "the U.S. government is increasingly withdrawing from global health efforts."
The cost of that retreat may be dear.
The 2014-16 Ebola epidemic killed 11,300 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and infected health workers brought it back to Europe and the U.S.. While the disease was eventually corralled, it continues to flare up.
WHO found that the key to stopping Ebola's spread is an immediate response that combines vaccination with isolation and hospitalization, a strategy that stopped a 2018 outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in its tracks. But the Trump budget cuts all Ebola spending and reduces emergency funds for the State Department. A post-epidemic analysis found that an extra 300 hospital beds would have stopped the disease's spread in 2014.
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