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Monday, December 6th, 2021

Funding cuts seen compromising America’s ability to fight global infectious disease threats

To advance U.S. leadership in fighting threats against human health – potentially deadly threats that can be transmitted between people like HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and the Ebola and Zika viruses – requires Congress to “resolutely reject” the Trump administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget cuts to most of the global health programs at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) says.

“Within the last year, we have seen an increase in drug-resistant fungal infections; the Zika virus continues to be a challenge; and there have been new yellow fever and Ebola outbreaks. Globally and domestically we’ve seen increases in syphilis, HIV and gonorrhea,” IDSA President Dr. William Powderly told Homeland Prep News on Thursday.

“Yes — decreased funding will compromise our ability to respond to these current threats,” said Powderly, a professor of medicine, director of the Institute for Public Health, and co-director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Washington University in St. Louis.

In fact, it’s becoming more difficult to treat certain bacterial infections with antibiotics, he said.
And over the last several years, numerous emerging and reemerging infectious diseases have also caused “substantial distress in communities, health systems and governments,” Powderly added in written testimony submitted this month to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

In addition to the Ebola and Zika viruses, other examples include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

“The looming threat of a new pandemic strain of influenza from Chinese avian flocks is another simmering concern that makes plain the ongoing need for solid investments in surveillance, laboratory infrastructure and well-trained human resources to ensure that the world will be better prepared for the next outbreak or pandemic,” Powderly said.

“We need to be in a position to tackle these,” he said.

However, that’s not the position the United States will be in if Congress approves President Donald Trump’s proposed FY18 budget, according to IDSA.

In general, the proposed budget includes substantial spending cuts for agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, cutting billions from public health and biomedical research programs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example, would receive a $1.2 billion budget cut, directly impacting programs for emergency preparedness, immunizations and certain cancer prevention, among others.

And the National Institutes of Health, which funds biomedical research including for cancer, would be cut by roughly $5.8 billion, a move Powderly calls “short-sighted” for both the potential security threats that are presented by such funding decreases, and by how discouraging this would be for young researchers and scientists considering careers in the biomed field.

“Where will we be in five or 10 years without them?” he asked. “We feel strongly that the U.S. is the biomedical research leader. It’s also been good for our economy producing new companies, new technologies and new innovations.”

Specifically within these agencies, reduced spending has been proposed for several related supports, including:

· The CDC’s President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), widely considered the most effective global health initiative in history, according to IDSA, would be cut $470 million;

· USAID’s global health funding would be cut by half, including 44 percent less funding for malaria and 25 percent less for neglected tropical diseases;

· USAID’s global tuberculosis program funds would be cut 26 percent; and

· USAID’s global health security budget would be eliminated and Ebola-designated funds for global health security purposes would be redirected.

In addition to funding the fight against emerging and reemerging infectious diseases, Powderly said in his testimony that USAID global health security funding also supports worldwide efforts to combat antimicrobial resistance efforts — “to which the U.S. recommitted last month at the first-ever G20 Health Ministers meeting.”

In recent years, some of the most deadly, multi-drug resistant threats have been discovered in China and India before quickly making their way to the United States, which IDSA says underscores “the need for a well-resourced, globally coordinated approach to antimicrobial resistance.”

“Infectious diseases know no borders,” said Powderly, so they must be confronted at their sources.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended Trump’s proposed FY18 budget request of $37.6 billion for the State Department and USAID the day it was released May 23.

“This budget request reflects the President’s America First agenda that prioritizes the well-being of Americans, bolsters U.S. national security, secures our borders, and advances U.S. economic interests,” Tillerson said.

He added that the proposed budget was “responsive to the realities of the world in the 21st century,” and ensures that the State Department and USAID “can quickly adapt to an ever-changing international environment.”