As a non-American I confess that I don’t understand how thousands of people can effectively be laid off because a bunch of politicians can’t agree on a budget, whatever the machinations going on internally. This isn’t a criticism, I just don’t understand. Did the politicians forego their salaries while they were trying to come to an agreement? I doubt it. That seems to be the general stance of most politicians worldwide.
Anyway that’s not directly the point of my blog today. The point is, can a situation such as the federal shutdown actually lead to an apocalypse? From a couple of articles in the Huffington Post (URLs below), it appears that their ability to react to a crisis was severely impacted, and the backlog of catch up since they returned to work is significant, again slowing down immediate response. These backlogs lead to delays in approvals for drugs (not a CDC role but I understand other agencies suffered similarly) and various projects designed to reduce the risk of potential infection and improvement of disease control. Even the Director of the U.S. CDC Tom Frieden tweeted that protection of the public would be severely reduced with the furloughing of just shy of 9,000 staff. As he points out, microbes don’t take weekends off or take industrial action and as a result were strangely unaffected by the federal shutdown.
To quote the CDC website, “CDC is the only U.S. government agency with the scientific expertise to quickly respond to infectious disease outbreaks. But if there is a weakness in the health monitoring system in any one country, it becomes a threat to all countries.” That is an amazing piece of foresight and I applaud this stance. Very laudable indeed.
I would have thought that this particular recognition of global responsibility would have put the CDC at the top of the list for protected status from what we have been watching over the last few weeks. Creating regional centres around the world in key areas is an excellent idea, but the potential for risk at home (in the USA) is just as great and the loss of around 10% of their workforce, however temporary, could have been of key significance if an outbreak of a difficult to manage or virulent infection coincided with this inaction. Good to see it wasn’t put too much to the test.
I think that hopefully we have learned a salutary lesson from this federal incident. In order to reduce our vulnerability to catastrophic biological events as they arise, we must make sure that irrespective of political turmoil our emergency monitors, God bless them, are kept inviolate. Emergency is a key word here and we need to make sure that organisations such as the CDC in the USA and the HPA in the UK are isolated from such political wrangling. In the end The People pay our governments to keep them safe and that should always be the overriding priority of any regime, especially a democracy.
Am I wrong?
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