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On the Third Hand: Ebola

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Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently boasted that they’ll be getting 50 trained experts to Ebola-stricken regions in West Africa — “within 30 days.”

“Within 30 days.”

On the one hand, certainly, there are many creepy outbreaks of creepy diseases in the world each year, and most of those outbreaks soon resolve themselves. But public health authorities have been battling the Ebola virus outbreak for months. Efforts to control the spread of the disease seem to be getting much weaker, not stronger.

See also: Mob chases patients out of Liberian Ebola quarantine facility.

On the other hand, the idea that a combination of summer vacation schedules, bureaucratic quicksand, and the effects of tight budgets on CDC operations could force the countries most affected by Ebola to wait for a small team of U.S. outbreak specialists to arrive seems to reflect the idea that officials in Washington are just going through the motions. They seem to be giving up on the idea that it’s even possible to keep civilization as we know it going.

They churn out paper after paper about chronic conditions, but then don’t bother to respond promptly to an outbreak of an infectious disease that’s killing large numbers of people now and seems to have the potential to blow up and kill many more people. 

Sellers of long-term care insurance (LTCI) and retirement planning products often complain that consumers have a short-term outlook. They have a hard time grasping the possibility that the future exists, and hence fail to plan for it.

My response is to suggest that the U.S. government itself behaves as if the current system will only last a few more years. Congress and the Executive Branch fail to provide enough funding to keep long-term programs solvent, or to make the benefits changes needed to keep the programs solvent without spending increases.

The Federal Reserve Board supposedly has freedom from congressional and Executive Branch micro-management so that it can make the tough decisions needed to promote long-term economic stability. Instead, the Fed has caved in to political pressure and done its part to make giant loans for big banks free. The Fed has shafted savers and investors with a long-term outlook to keep the stock market and the mortgage market intact for a few more years.

Now the CDC responds sluggishly to the Ebola outbreak. The response makes all of the earlier reports the CDC has put out about outbreak preparedness look like a sham. 

On the third hand: Regulators polled health insurers and found that fewer than 1 percent of them set any of their own surplus capital aside for pandemic preparedness. Presumably, they do have protection from reinsurance arrangements, state guaranty funds, and, in theory, government emergency aid.

The bottom line is that our society’s main disaster preparedness strategy seems to be to develop preparedness plans with little substance behind them and hope everything goes well. Because, if a disaster really happens, and anyone tries to put the preparedness plans into effect, the results will likely be disastrous.

See also: Avian Flu: How Big A Menace?


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