Former CDC Directors Want Well-resourced CDC for Next Outbreak


Six former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) directors (Drs. Foege, Gerberding, Koplan, Mason, Roper and Satcher) penned an opinion piece calling for federal policymakers to ensure that CDC remains well-resourced to fight disease outbreaks as well as the growing burden of chronic diseases in America.

The opinion piece ran in today’s Politico, and it cites the recent fungal meningitis outbreak as an example of why CDC needs essential funding to retain flexibility for responding to disease outbreaks. You may recall that the fungal meningitis outbreak, which was traced to a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy, was quickly identified by the Tennessee Department of Health, which receives CDC funding for safe healthcare. CDC scientists then established the best treatment options as other CDC and state health officials contacted over 14,000 potentially infected patients. CDC scientists then tested samples taken from the contaminated products and from patients to determine if each was infected.

By all accounts, CDC and its partners did an excellent job in responding to this outbreak that has tragically claimed 36 lives to date. So why are the former CDC directors concerned about CDC? Their opinion piece explains:

“To meet these urgent demands, CDC had to pull in more than 300 staff as well as countless other state and local personnel. The fungal meningitis outbreak is just one of many outbreaks that required a major CDC response so far this year. Multiple food-borne outbreaks, emergence of new strains of swine flu in the Midwest and cases of plague in Western states require CDC’s full attention. Add to that global health concerns such as a SARS-like virus tracked to the Middle East and ongoing avian influenza in Asia, both just a plane ride away from the United States. Events like these underscore the critical nature — and potential vulnerability — of CDC and the public health network it leads to protect our nation.”

To emphasize their concern, the former CDC directors continue:

“As doctors, scientists and former CDC directors, we know that we cannot afford to shortchange our frontline protection against these emerging and ongoing domestic and global health threats. And yet, the projected budget cuts throughout the government threaten to do just that — significantly curtail CDC’s ability to detect and rapidly respond to health crises wherever they occur. As funding priorities are debated and ultimately decided, we implore our elected officials to invest in CDC and strengthen its capacity to build and sustain the science, outbreak detection and response capability — and overall agility to protect our citizens, our businesses and our economy.”

In the coming weeks, the federal government is scheduled to make significant spending cuts through a course of action termed sequestration. Policymakers are starting discussions about potential alternatives to the planned across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases. Tough choices will have to be made. In my view — and, based on the collective view of these former CDC directors — the key will be to implement cuts in a way that does not harm CDC’s ability to help ensure the public’s health.

The former CDC directors put it best:

“The role of government in a number of areas can be debated, but we believe there is consensus on the vital governmental role in preventing disease and working to mitigate the damage in situations such as the meningitis outbreak.

“We served under presidents on both sides of the political aisle, so we know that ensuring CDC is well resourced is not a partisan issue. We need to be mindful that it is essential to ensuring the public’s health and our nation’s economic security.”

I hope that policymakers follow these doctors’ orders.

Charles Stokes is president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.