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Ebola has gripped the headlines and increased Americans’ stress levels to the point where little else is being discussed. To be clear, at least 4,500 people in West Africa have died from the disease. And, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) is being blamed at virtually every stage of this event by those who claim it should have had procedures in place to prevent spread of infection. Add to this that most healthcare professionals say the chance of Ebola spreading around this country is little to none, and you can understand the public confusion.
On Friday, President Obama appointed Ron Klain as the Ebola Czar, but, as always, there’s a growing number of elected officials in search of whom to blame. In a recent cable news interview, two U.S. House Representatives offered their takes on the governmental response to Ebola:
“Either the CDC directives haven’t been clear enough or the hospital wasn’t interpreting them correctly,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO). “Ebola is not like flu. But we need to have clearer guidelines for people who have come into close contact with people infected.”
“There is great confusion coming from the CDC and lack of coordination in waste disposal,” she said. “The CDC needs to be more aggressive in this regard and tell hospitals what to do.”
But, this looks impossible. A recent TIME article noted the lack of mandate from the CDC in forcing hospitals to adopt procedures. It may take a constitutional amendment. Apparently, the CDC can only take control from local authorities in two circumstances: those authorities extend an invitation or there’s a total breakdown of law and order as outlined under the Insurrection Act.
So, to blame the CDC is perhaps like blaming the toilet when your 4-year old son misses his target. The Ebola situation is less about this disease and more about systemic issues endemic within the hospital network.
During the tragic death of Eric Duncan at the Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas Hospital, CDC officials acknowledged there was little-to-nothing in place to deal with the patient.
“[The administrator] said the hospital originally had no full-body biohazard suits equipped with respirators but now has about a dozen. Protocols evolved at the hospital while Duncan was being treated,” CDC epidemiologist Pierre Rollin told the Washington Post.
Even the nurses who fight the spread of Ebola at their hospital’s ground zero are caught up in this blame game. At one point, the CDC blamed (and has since apologized to) one nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas Hospital. The Texas Nurses’ Association fought back, blaming the hospital for not providing adequate protective gear or training.
About 1 in 25 patients get an infection while being treated at a U.S. hospital, amounting to roughly 700,000 hospital-acquired infections annually, according to the CDC. Although most don’t rise to the level of Ebola, that’s a figure that should not only raise eyebrows, but should also be unacceptable.
But American healthcare isn’t without examples for infection disease control protocols. The School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans partnered with the World Health Organization’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN). So, too, is the North Carolina Hospital Association which is working to distribute additional guidelines to its member hospitals.
Meanwhile, Ebola Czar has his work cut out for him. He has a fine pedigree in management and business organization, but he’s not a physician. He has no training in infectious diseases. His appointment may very well be emblematic of the systemic failures of the U.S. healthcare system – or at least the beginning of another failure.
Ultimately, this situation may not just be about Ebola. Research reveals little, if any, information on standardized protocols for in-hospital protection against infectious diseases. While there are plenty of hospitals that do have system-wide directives, there may be an equal or greater number that don’t.
“To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.” – National Academies of Sciences
When I worked as a legislative aide in the Wisconsin State Legislature in the early 1990s, saving the family farm was both a big political message and effort. Large corporations, such as Dow, Monsanto, and BASF were beginning to take a great interest in this domestic resource. Back then, Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) – a genetically-enhanced chemical used to increase milk production in cows – emerged as a big issue. It was expensive and only larger farm operations could afford it. Critics said it was unsafe. Private farmers said it was destroying their livelihoods.
The debate surrounding the merit and value of GMOs should focus less on how these foods can be harmful to human health and more on how a large, publicly-traded company can essentially make decisions over who receives food and for how much it will be sold.
Today, there are companies that own both the front and backend of a supply chain, giving them a level of control that may not benefit the common good. “Farming got much more specialized, focusing on tremendous production of one commodity, rather than growing all kinds of veggies and livestock,” a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service report stated.
I watch with bated breath to see when folks let the science take a backseat for a moment and begin talking about the real why behind it all. Why are companies so interested in making food more available Well, they’re businesses.
Man-of-the-Cosmos, Neil DeGrassi Tyson recently said, “GMO producers ought to be able to make as much money as they can,“ while pointing out that we’ve been modifying food for thousands of years. His diatribe startled many of his followers. Among that group, he is an oracle and man of the people – a man to lead society to greater enlightenment.
But, Tyson is a scientist, not a businessperson. He’ll be the first to admit that, and this isn’t just about public health. Society needs to be aware of the global impact a company can have on food availability when decisions are based on the bottom line.
Take Monsanto, for example. This behemoth is a typical global corporation with its fingers in virtually every level of the supply chain of food production and distribution. It develops the seeds, grows the crop, protects them with patents and pesticides, and distributes the food. Both here and abroad, they’ve brought the supply chain full circle via a framework of farms that cultivate these seeds. It’s all protected under intellectual property law, and farms that use another variety of seed are penalized. That’s a good deal of control. In fact, some governments from around the world have been looking at it this way for years. And it has been coming to a head, recently, in countries, such as India:
“The ease with which a transgenic technology allows corporations to claim ownership rights over seeds makes it attractive to them to hype why the world needs GMOs and seek control over entire food chains — from production to marketing — jeopardising the livelihood security of farmers,” a farmers’ group wrote to the Indian government.
This now becomes a geopolitical issue over control of the food supply, and subsequent control over how populations view their governments and whether it has their interests at heart.
It’s here where we see the GMO food lobby, emerging markets, and rising political protests. So, the debate here is not whether GMOs are safe. They likely are. The debate is about feeding the world’s neediest, but doing it with tremendous caveats. You can’t put a label on that.
A project I completed for a great cause recently.
Carrie was a great interview. She talked about the pain, but her story is more about taking control and friends at Duke Hospital who helped her along the way.