President Trump proposed a US$54 billion military budget increase to solidify the security of our nation. However, the government also recognizes pandemic threats as an issue of national security – one that knows no borders.
In the last four years, we have faced the Ebola epidemic – contained after significant loss of life – and Zika, which is still not contained. Collectively, we will feel these effects for a generation, while children born with Zika-related defects and their families will feel the effects every day of their lives.
The U.S. is a leading member of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), a growing international partnership created to respond to infectious disease threats. Yet the Trump budget slashes funding for the very agencies mandated to prevent pandemics. Take, for example, the 37 percent cut to the $50 billion State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) budget, more than one-third of which targets global health security. As a global health researcher, I think this reveals a grave lack of understanding of the nuances and complexity of this national security issue.
The way the military protects America’s welfare is straightforward. The way that other U.S. agencies prevent pandemics is less understood. That it’s complicated shouldn’t stop our commitment to it.
Threats are closer than we realize
There are imminent threats that aren’t in the realm of hypothetical. Here’s an example: In January of this year, the government issued a travel warning in response to an active outbreak of H7N9 bird flu in China.
This strain of avian flu is worrisome because a few small mutations would allow it to spread from person to person. This could be the next pandemic to sweep the globe.
Historically speaking, we are overdue for a bird flu disaster. They have been documented over the past two centuries and appear every 40 years on average; the last one was in 1969.