House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations
“Combating the Ebola Threat”
August 7, 2014
Statement of Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Good afternoon Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Bass, and members of the Subcommittee.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today and for your ongoing support for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) work in global health. I am Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of CDC. Just a year ago, I testified before this very Subcommittee about the importance of CDC’s work to strengthen global health security by improving detection, response, and prevention. Today, I am here to discuss the current epidemic of Ebola in West Africa, which illustrates in a tragic way the need to strengthen global health security.
We do not view Ebola as a significant danger to the United States because it is not transmitted easily, does not spread from people who are not ill, and because cultural norms that contribute to the spread of the disease in Africa – such as burial customs – are not a factor in the United States. We know how to stop Ebola with strict infection control practices which are already in widespread use in American hospitals, and by stopping it at the source in Africa. . . .
Working with our partners, we have been able to stop every prior Ebola outbreak, and we will stop this one. It will take meticulous work. It’s like fighting a forest fire: leave behind one burning ember, one case undetected, and the epidemic could re-ignite. Ending this outbreak will take time, at least three to six months in a best case scenario, but this is very far from a best case scenario. Once this outbreak is controlled, we will leave behind stronger systems to prevent, detect, and stop Ebola and other outbreaks before they spread. These include lab networks that can rapidly diagnose Ebola and other threats, emergency operations centers that can swing into action at a moment’s notice, and trained disease detectives who can find an emerging threat and stop it quickly. If these people, facilities, and labs had been in place in the three countries currently battling Ebola, the outbreaks would already be over. We must do more, and do it quickly, to strengthen global health security around the world, because we are all connected. Diseases can be unpredictable – like H1N1 coming from Mexico, MERS emerging from the Middle East, or Ebola in West Africa, where it had never been recognized before – which is why we have to be prepared globally for anything nature can create that could threaten our global health security. . . .
Earlier this year, the United States Government joined with partner governments, WHO and other multilateral organizations, and non-governmental actors to launch the Global Health Security Agenda. Over the next five years, the United States has committed to working with at least thirty partner countries (with a combined population of at least four billion people) to improve their ability to prevent, detect, and effectively respond to infectious disease threats – whether naturally occurring or caused by accidental or intentional release of pathogens. As part of this Agenda, the President’s FY 2015 Budget includes $45 million for CDC to accelerate progress in detection, prevention, and response. The economic cost of large public health emergencies can be tremendous – the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome epidemic, known as SARS, disrupted travel, trade, and the workplace and cost the Asia-Pacific region alone $40 billion. The Budget’s $45 million proposal would improve detection, prevention, and response and potentially reduce some of the direct and indirect costs of infectious diseases.