Protection Requires Investment

Previously in this space, I’ve written about how vital it is for our nation to invest in CDC to provide the agency with the tools it needs to protect our citizens and businesses from public health threats that can originate here in the United States or around the world. Last night on the CBS Evening News, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden provided a timely example of a public health investigation—the cyclosporiasis outbreak that has been reported in 16 states with over 500 cases—that could be aided by investment in new technology.

Cyclospora, a parasite that causes intestinal illness and is rare in the United States, first surfaced in two states in June. Since then, cyclospora cases in Nebraska and Iowa have been traced to tainted salad greens from Mexico. However, it has not been determined whether the cases in all states are related to the same source.

Last evening, Dr. Frieden was asked by CBS Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook about whether the CDC had determined whether the outbreak could be traced to the same source. He responded, “We don't know that all the parasites are the same. Unless we can really track it down and understand it better, we can’t figure out where it's coming from, and we may not be able to prevent as well as we could otherwise.”

Importantly, Dr. Frieden noted that the technology to aid CDC in this kind of disease detective work does exist, but he noted that CDC does not currently have it.

Frieden“We need to get to the next generation of disease detective work. It used to take months to be able to sequence part of a microbe’s genome,” Dr. Frieden said. “Now, a piece of equipment like this [holds up computer chip] can sequence a genome in hours.”

The new technology that Dr. Frieden mentions is advanced molecular detection, or AMD. This technology would represent a major enhancement of CDC’s current microbiology and bioinformatics capabilities to find and stop deadly infectious disease outbreaks that threaten every American every day, according to the agency.

Dr. Frieden said that working without AMD, “… is like trying to solve a crime without using fingerprints.” To keep pace with disease and the speed and flexibility provided by modern medical technology, CDC has requested $40 million as part of its 2014 budget to begin funding an investment into AMD hardware and software.

I realize our nation faces numerous funding priorities, from economic challenges to national defense needs to infrastructure improvements. Still, investing in AMD is critical to the health and safety of our nation, and we must find a way to support this initiative.

Going back to Dr. Frieden’s example, just like police on the street need fingerprints to track down criminals, CDC needs AMD to protect our country.

Charles Stokes is president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.