Journalism’s ethics code says the press must ‘seek truth and report it,’ and also minimize harm. During a public health crisis, how should the press deal with President Trump’s inaccuracies and lies?
The Trump administration has cut funding for infectious disease research and reduced high-level staffing for global health security, leaving the nation less prepared for major outbreaks.
Source: The Trump administration has made the U.S. less ready for infectious disease outbreaks like coronavirus : The Conversation
‘……………..By Ron Klain
Ron Klain was White House Ebola response coordinator from October 2014 to February.
When President Obama and his fellow Group of Seven leaders meet in Germany beginning today, Ebola will be on the agenda. The leaders will talk about the need to wipe out the relatively small number of remaining cases in West Africa, as well as the need for aid to rebuild the ravaged nations of the region. Both steps are critical.
But neither will address what should be our No. 1 lesson from the Ebola crisis: the need for substantial measures to keep us safe from the pandemic on the horizon, a catastrophic event that is inevitable if we don’t move quickly to prevent it. As Bill Gates recently said, “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus, rather than a war.” So why, with the Ebola epidemic serving as a fresh warning, aren’t the G-7 leaders doing more to tackle this critical health and security issue?
As scary as Ebola was, the world’s success in taming it may have given us a false sense of security. Ebola was, in many ways, a deceptively simple test of the world’s epidemic response system. Ebola is hard to transmit and easy to detect. The epidemic broke out in three relatively small countries that contained no mega-city and sent only a limited number of travelers out of the region.
The next time, the world might face a far more dangerous threat. A pandemic flu could be spread easily and quickly, carried by individuals with no obvious symptoms. It could explode like a wildfire in a massive city and be carried overnight by thousands of travelers to the world’s major commerce centers.
Here is what should be on the G-7 agenda:
First, the G-7 nations — especially the United States, Britain, Germany and France — should agree to retain the capacities their militaries developed during the Ebola epidemic for infectious disease response and patient airlift. These capacities could easily dissipate now that the most acute phase of epidemic is over. In a future pandemic, the world may not have the four to six months it took to assemble these specialized units and capabilities, such as the tools to airlift infectious patients to treatment.
Second, the G-7 should combine these national military resources into a single international entity — what German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called a “white helmet battalion” — that could respond to an outbreak before it becomes a full-scale epidemic. This body should have the capacity to deploy rapidly anywhere in the world with medical field facilities, lab equipment, security and medical teams. The European Union has pledged to take up the question of creating an E.U.-flagged unit; what is really needed, however, is a broader effort that includes the United States (and perhaps other non-E.U. countries).
Third, the G-7 nations need to convene the relevant experts and authorities to develop a coherent approach to the fast approval and deployment of new vaccines and treatments that might be required to respond to a pandemic. In West Africa we saw a plethora of clinical tests separately led by the United States, Britain, France and China with no coordination. Moreover, fights about who would be liable if anyone was injured by these unproven vaccines and treatments went unresolved. GAVI, the global vaccine alliance, runs hugely successful immunization programs for proven vaccines, but it lacks a mechanism for handling unproven vaccines (or therapeutics), or for dealing with the intellectual property and liability issues involved when new medicines are introduced without a track record. The time to resolve such issues is before an epidemic is raging.
Finally, the G-7 nations need to step up their commitment to global health security, because in the long run, the only way to keep all of us safe from outbreaks is to have every nation’s health-care system sufficiently resourced to provide at least a preliminary response to an outbreak. President Obama’s leadership in this area has been exceptional, and — in a rare act of bipartisanship — Congress appropriated more than $800 million to support this effort during the Ebola crisis. But all of the G-7 nations need to dig deep to advance this program.
The last time the G-7 met, the Ebola epidemic had not yet captured global attention; now, a year later, it has faded from public consciousness. But unless the world wants to consign itself to an endless cycle of repeating what transpired in the year between these two meetings, it needs to take steps to combat the next pandemic before it is upon us.
This could be so, you only have to look at avian influenza or bird flu.
The Black Death struck Europe in 1347, killing 30-50% of the European population in six violent years. It wasn’t a one-off epidemic: it signalled the start of the second plague pandemicin Europe that lasted for hundreds of years and only slowly disappeared from the continent after the Great Plague of London in 1665-1666.
These outbreaks were traditionally thought to be caused by rodent reservoirs of infected rats lurking in Europe’s cities, or potentially by rodent reservoirs in the wilderness. But our research, published in the journal PNAS, suggests otherwise.
If the “reservoir” thesis were correct, we would expect plague outbreaks to be associated with local climate fluctuations, through changes in agricultural yields and primary productions in forests, affecting the number of urban and wildlife rodents, resulting in more plague. We found that Europe’s plague outbreaks were indeed associated with climate fluctuations – but in Asia.
The Black Death came to Europe from Asia. Historical records tentatively map it back to outbreaks in 1345 in Astrakhan and Sarai, two trade centres located on the Volga river near the Caspian Sea.
Where the Black Death came from before it hit those cities is not known, but by recovering fragments of DNA from the teeth of plague victims in Europe, the closest currently known living relatives of this medieval strain of the plague causing bacteriaYersinia pestis are circulating in marmots and long-tailed ground squirrels in north-west China.
Some dominant narratives on the plague are poorly substantiated. One being that medieval plague was transmitted by black or brown rats and their infected fleas jumping to humans. This was indeed how the third plague pandemic in the 19th and 20th centuries was transmitted – but there is poor archaeological evidence there were many rats across much of northern Europe in the Middle Ages aside from small populations of black rats in harbour towns, and no historic records that rats played a role in the disease.
“Rodent reservoirs” represent another dominant narrative. The idea is that the disease was introduced in medieval Europe once (the Black Death epidemic) after which it settled into local rats or wildlife rodents, and continued to cause outbreaks in European cities for hundreds of years.
This is the narrative we aimed to substantiate through evidence, but which we ended up challenging. Using tree-ring based climate records from Europe and Asia, we showed that plague reintroductions into European harbours were associated with periods of wet conditions, followed by a drought, across large parts of Central Asia.
These conditions were tough for rodents in the region, traditionally the hosts of the plague bacterium, and their numbers would plummet. Infected fleas would seek new hosts, often latching onto passing human traders or their camels, though we don’t yet know exactly how the plague made the journey westward. What we do know is that, 14-16 years after the rodent-killing drought, we would often find plague reintroduced into Europe.
The chart below shows these climate fluctuations in Central Asia preceded the Black Death in 1347, the Italian plague of 1629, and the Great Plague of Marseille a century later, but notably not the London plague of 1665 or the outbreak in Vienna the following decade.
This followed a pattern that we associate with current-day plague outbreaks. What is the implication of such a finding? In terms of our understanding of the past plague pandemics, it provides a different perspective as to how the disease moved across Eurasia, driven by climate events that were and still are frequently occurring.
It implies that there might never have been permanent reservoirs of plague among European rodents. While alpine marmotsmight have been affected and transmitted plague in medieval Europe, we found no indications that they can form a long-term reservoir, as their cousins in Asia do.
Furthermore, the observation that plague disappeared from the European mainland, while outbreaks in the Middle East and northern Africa continued to follow upon climate events in Central Asia strongly suggests that the reason why plague disappeared from Europe should be phrased not in terms of why its reservoirs disappeared, but why the disease could no longer spread efficiently across the continent. It gives historians, epidemiologists and biologists new questions to ask in their quest to reconstruct what exactly happened during one of the most devastating pandemics in human history.