The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” and last month it encouraged an immediate response internationally.
It urged national preparedness plans and procedures for identifying and responding to COVID-19 cases.
Withe the death toll continuing to skyrocket, this virus now easily surpasses the deadly SARS outbreak that caused such pandemonium 17 years ago.
Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is the Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation and teaches at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia.
She has coauthored a new book along with Devi Sridhar, a professor at the University of Edinburgh’s Medical School who holds the Chair in Global Public Health.
The new book, “Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why?”, examines the global health situation and asks important and timely questions, especially as we find ourselves amid a new health crisis.
This recent terrifying outbreak affects tens of millions of people in Wuhan and has far reaching impact around the world. In public health, there is a well known saying, “Outbreaks are inevitable; epidemics are not.”
Experts across the fields of science including nuanced subcategories like virology, genetics, epidemiology, mathematical modeling, and even political science and anthropology, are working tirelessly to try to get answers.
They are looking to discover when the virus made the jump from animals to humans and from which species. They are trying to determine how widespread the cases are, and how infectious and fatal.
Scientists are also diligently trying to develop a vaccine and diagnose cases faster, while simultaneously working on public containment strategies.
Clinton and Sridhar are quick to point out that under President Barack Obama, infrastructure was firmly established to respond world health crises like Ebola and Zika outbreaks with the goal being that they did NOT become pandemics.
Unfortunately, President Donald Trump did NOT follow in his predecessor’s footsteps when it came to dealing with global health.
Besides eliminating the position of Global Health Czar, he has repeatedly proposed cuts important to global health funding. Now thankfully, Congress hasn’t passed those cuts but it goes to show you the priorities of our leader.
His newly proposed 2021 budget for the Department of Health and Human Services would cut $3 billion from response and preparedness funds.
The author express particular concern about the LACK of response from the White House. They say “We have a President uninterested in global health concerns, broadly disdainful of experts and recently obsessed with and distracted by his impeachment.”
They hearken back to a time when President Trump was just TV host Trump and encourage us to remember, “Trump has often shown deep ignorance and cruelty on issues of global health. During the Ebola outbreak, when he was still a reality TV host, he said the US should not allow Ebola-infected citizens and aid workers to come back to the US and should let them “suffer the consequences.”
Clinton and Sridhar remember when Trump even deliberately spread misinformation through tweets, saying Ebola was: “Spreading all over Africa-and fast. Stop flights” and “The U.S. must immediately stop all flights from EBOLA infected countries or the plague will start and spread inside our ‘borders.’ Act fast!”
In 2014-2015, before he was President Trump, he could contain his disdain to Twitter. Now, however, he has a much bigger audience. He makes false claims on Twitter, recently saying the virus would weaken in warmer weather, despite having no evidence of that.
The authors point out that the Trump administration is notoriously bad at any type of long-term planning, and that frankly they just don’t seem to care. At least that is what numerous vacant positions in government as well as the constant rotation of key cabinet positions make us think. Pair all that with an anti-science and anti-expert bias, and we have a real problem when faced with a crisis like COVID-19.
How anti-science is the Trump administration’s agenda? Clinton and Sridhar say, “Columbia University has even tracked more than 400 cases of the Trump administration’s efforts to restrict or dismiss scientific research, education or discussion, or the publication or use of scientific information since 2016.” Let that sink in. A president and an administration actively avoiding public health education.
The entire global health security unit was dissolved and as a final step in undoing what Obama had worked to achieve in the field, global health security expert Timothy Ziemer was removed from the National Security Council. The unit closely monitored epidemics and coordinated public health planning.
During an outbreak, we need clear governance, strategic thinking, and the ability to plan for the future. The Trump administration does NONE of that. They cut funding, ignore research, and reject solutions.
Clinton and Sridhar believe the American people are in a pivotal moment as we face what the World Health Organization has called a public health emergency. They advocate that we need a strong leader – one who actually understands the importance of this moment and how to handle it going forward.