Will budget cuts help spread deadly MERS virus in US?

Friday, May 16, 2014
By Paul Martin

By Ferdous Al-Faruque

The National Association of County and City Health Officials says more than 50,000 local and state health jobs have been cut since 2008 as local governments reduced budgets because of falling tax revenue during the recession.

“This does represent vulnerabilities for health departments in response to emerging viruses like MERS-[coronavirus],” said Jack Hermann, senior adviser at the association.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has seen its core budget cut from $6.7 billion in 2011 to $5.8 billion in 2013, according to the Campaign for Public Health Foundation.

And in 2014, the Obama administration proposed cutting the CDC budget to $5.4 billion.

“It’s troubling and it makes me nervous when you think of things like MERS coming over the border,” said Karl Moeller, the foundation’s executive director.

He argues that the budget cuts will make it tougher for health agencies to control the spread of a pandemic.

“You can put a nice face on budget cuts and billions of dollars [in savings] and it sounds good but …there aren’t people at the gates to make sure this stuff doesn’t spread.”

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesman Tait Sye says while the CDC’s core budget request for 2015 is $5.4 billion, adding other funding sources such as the Vaccine for Children program and elements of ObamaCare actually bring that number to $11.1 billion.

“It’s not quite accurate to look at the core budget and jump to the conclusion on MERS [preparedness],” he said.

Sye said the agency has asked for increases in programs in its core budget that could help the CDC tackle MERS. They include $45 million more for its Global Health Security Initiative to help prevent new diseases crossing into the U.S. and $55 million more for its Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases program to help detect and characterize new pathogens.

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