Obama administration officials and lawmakers are just starting to talk about how the country will pay for the U.S. Ebola response, but Dr. Thomas Frieden says the impact of a major infectious disease outbreak can be tremendous.
Frieden tried to give members of Congress an idea of how big the costs can be by describing the effects of the 2002-2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak. SARS infected more than 8,000 people in the Asia-Pacific region and killed 775.
Unlike Ebola, SARS has a mortality of less than 10 percent, not 50 percent, but, like the Ebola virus, the virus that causes SARS spreads mainly through person-to-person bodily contact and through contact with particles of bodily fluids, such as saliva.
“SARS disrupted travel, trade and the workplace,” Frieden said. In the Asia-Pacific region alone, SARS caused more than $40 billion in economic loss, Frieden said.
Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), talked about the economic impact of the SARS outbreak in written testimony for a House Energy & Commerce subcommittee hearing on the U.S. public health response to the Ebola outbreak.
Congress recently gave the CDC $30 million of the $45 million the agency had requested for efforts to expand disease detection and management centers in other countries, but Congress told the CDC to use the money mainly to pay for the Ebola outbreak response. The CDC must tell Congress if it uses the money to fight other diseases.
In addition to building its own disease tracking centers, the United States needs to help strengthen the public health infrastructure in places like West Africa, Frieden said.