America Does Not Care About Contagious Disease

Sarah KliffYou may have noticed that I haven’t talked much about Ebola. There’s a reason for this: I focus on domestic issues. That’s not to say that I don’t care about the people of sub-Saharan Africa. I do. I think we should do more for the people there generally, but especially for disease control. Although let’s face it: malaria is a far bigger deal. But here in America? Ebola is a very typical joke: the national version of freaking out about a hangnail while you bleed to death from a gunshot wound to your stomach.

Do you know how many pedestrians will be killed in the United States today? It is roughly ten times as many as the total number of people who have ever died of Ebola in this country. Think of it this way, the most likely way that Ebola will kill you is if you are so worried about it that you get distracted crossing the street and get hit by a car. On an individual basis, Americans who are worried about Ebola are nitwits. I’ve even come up with an acronym: TNT-BAN. It stands for, “Try Not To Be A Nitwit.” I think it is good advice, but I don’t expect many Americans to follow it.

And before someone accuses me of constructing a straw man, last week a Gallup poll found, One-Fifth of Americans Worry About Getting Ebola. And among Fox News viewers, I’ll bet the numbers are vastly higher. Be afraid; be very afraid!

But there is a sense in which we should be worried about Ebola. We should be worried about the spread of all disease. In our ever more interconnected world, the spread of disease is a bigger and bigger threat. But this is America! We don’t think strategically about anything. We just freak out when we are told to. So lots of people are in favor of doing something about Ebola right now. But after the ranters on television stop talking about it, everyone will forget about it and go back to thinking about what really matters: who is next to be voted off their favorite reality show and whether Michelle Duggar’s uterus can manage to produce one more viable Stepford Child.

Sarah Kliff wrote a very interesting article over at Vox today, The Stunning Cuts to America’s Budget to Fight Disease Outbreaks. Remember when Ronald Reagan said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Well, Democrats have never really countered that. The two Democratic presidents since him have pretty much gone along with the idea. So it is always easy to cut the Centers for Disease Control. I mean, it is the problem. Am I right?!

Public Health Funding

Over the last seven years, the funding for the CDC’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement Funding has been cut almost in half. As Kliff noted, it “is one of the federal government’s main ways of helping local areas prepare for unexpected outbreaks.” Yet it is “an easy budget to cut when there aren’t any emergencies happening.” But not to worry, even if an emergency were happening during budget negotiations, it wouldn’t matter. There will just be another continuing resolution. The Republicans are not going to allow a new budget to become law. And they certainly aren’t going to do it with increased funding for anything other than military spending.

Ebola is not a problem. But the idea of the CDC is to make sure that it and so many other things we don’t normally think about don’t become problems. Americans generally accept the aphorism, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But when it comes to government policy, Americans think, “Meh.” Any day now, I expect to hear Ted Cruz say, “The CDC is not the solution to contagious disease; the CDC is contagious disease.” Go team!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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