Ebola's the open secret no one wanted to know about. This is anything but a new story. The Hot Zone caused a stir early in the '90s'; Virus Hunter toward the end. Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a chronic problem with the media. Headlines moved on to the next crisis de jour. Our program chose to look beyond those headlines. What we found is eerily prescient -- virologists (people who study viruses) imploring us, begging us, to pay attention*.
What America, and therefore the world, got instead was the result of virulent Republican loathing of our government (except when subsidizing or protecting big business). Public funds plummeted while private funding was living down to its promise. In this cut-government-at-any-cost world, we're now paying a deadly price for the stunning cuts. One example suffices: The 2013 Republican orchestrated "sequestration" required an National Institutes of Health across-the-board $1.55 billion cut in every area of medical research.
Credit Dr. Thomas Frieden for his exemplary steady hand despite taunts from ratings-driven (TV and radio) and dogma-driven (politicians) extremists. Clearly, this highly-qualified physician and public health professional is the right doc at the right time in the right place. Fortunately, he also appears to have a very thick skin.
As Dr. Frieden has said repeatedly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s information is clear and it is correct. They know what Ebola is. They know how to stop it. Further, we lived in Atlanta through the Bush years, first hand witnesses to the devastating results of a politically-driven CDC director** diminishing the CDC's effectiveness with budget cuts and by driving away highly qualified individuals.
Dr. Frieden has been masterful in rebuilding this crucial player in the world's battles against disease and pursuit of health for us all. Happily, the American people appear smarter than Republicans and capable of looking beyond crisis-mongering headlines.
We knew that Republican attacks on science and scientist were damaging our communities and our futures. Ebola and Republicans' Chicken Little responses are today's headline*** examples.
*We could easily have titled this piece "We Were Warned, and Warned, and Warned..." In 1997 we broadcast a program with Dr. C.J. Peters, then Chief of Special Pathogens at the Centers for Disease Control (and author of Virus Hunter). In 2000, we broadcast programs with Dr. Dennis Burton at The Scripps Research Institute; Dr. Connie Schmaljohn, then Chief of the Department of Molecular Virology at the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infections Diseases (USMRIID); and Dr. Barry Beatty who focused on the bearers of truly bad tidings. During the early 2000s we distributed their messages via CNN Radio International and CNN.com. This is the audio from one of those messages.
** I was part of an early CDC Advisory Group. We also had friends working at all levels of the CDC and for their associated Foundation which was created during that time. I had a front row seat to the transition in 2002 from Dr. Jeffrey P . Koplan to Dr. Julie L. Gerberding (2002-2008) and on to Dr. Frieden (2009-present).
***If you, too, want to go beyond the headlines, try this from the "London Review of Books."