Via The New York Times, an op-ed by Ron Klain, former US Ebola "czar": Finishing Off Ebola. Excerpt:
Most importantly, the global community’s tardy reaction to the Ebola outbreak, the early stumbles, and incoherent leadership by the World Health Organization compel us to ask whether we will be better prepared for the next Ebola outbreak. And, as bad as this epidemic has been, it could pale in comparison to greater threats in the future. Ebola is hard to transmit, has telltale symptoms before patients are highly contagious, and has not exploded in poverty-stricken global megacities.
What will happen when we face an inevitable global pandemic that is more easily transmitted, less easy to detect, and rampant in the world’s most densely populated areas? With today’s global interconnectedness, a 2018 repeat of the 1918 Spanish flu could kill 100 million people or more — 10,000 times the 10,000 lives Ebola has taken — and the world would not have the months it needed with Ebola to get the response together.
In the United States, we painfully learned last summer that vast sums spent on medical preparedness after 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks failed to produce a health care system ready for Ebola. In December, Congress gave us a chance to get it right, by appropriating billions of dollars for the Ebola domestic response and preparations. We must make sure that our public health system uses the remainder of these funds to deal with what is left of this Ebola epidemic and to prepare for future threats.
The world needs to do a better job of quickly detecting and responding to future outbreaks in unlikely places. The President’s Global Health Security Agenda, the government’s strategy to combat infection disease around the world, will help. But vulnerable countries, including those in Africa, need their own version of our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so that they are not so dependent on ours.
For the hardest task of front-line epidemic fighting, our planet is too reliant on courageous and talented — but underfunded, under-equipped and volunteer-dependent — nongovernmental organizations. The world needs a permanent standing force — or a ready reserve that can be quickly organized — of public health emergency responders who have the training, gear and resources to race into a region in the early phases of epidemic control. The United States military cannot do that job every time; future outbreaks might occur in countries where our troops will not be welcomed as they were in West Africa.
Leaders of the Group of 7 nations discussed proposals for such a “white helmet” battalion last year, and should continue work on this proposal before the urgency of the current crisis fades. Another important idea is a public health brigade operated by the African Union. Finally, the World Health Organization — which has justifiably been critical of its early failings in the Ebola epidemic — must be reformed so that it can respond rapidly and with the proper personnel and equipment.
The fearful days of last fall are behind us. Beating the epidemic in West Africa is now achievable. But as we finish the job and embrace the survivors and responders, we must also prepare for the next epidemic, before it is upon us.