The CDC Is Slashing Its Global Epidemic Budget By 80%

Programs in 39 countries are being downsized, leaving many vulnerable to a new outbreak.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is drastically downsizing programs in dozens of countries, sources claim, as money for such efforts runs out.

The Washington Post is reporting that funding for efforts to detect and respond to new epidemics is being slashed as much as 80%. Officials have begun notifying staffers about the cuts, allegedly, as they expect there will be “no new resources.”

After the Ebola epidemic of 2014, the U.S. government launched the Global Health Security Agenda, which trains front-line workers in outbreak detection and strengthens laboratory and emergency-response systems. Congress approved a $600 million five-year budget, of which about $150 million is left.

Starting in October 2019, the CDC will end those programs in 39 countries, including China, Pakistan, Haiti, Rwanda, Congo and other epidemic hotspots. Instead, it will focus on 10 “priority countries,” including India, Thailand, Vietnam, Kenya, Uganda, and Guatemala.

As recently as last fall, Tim Ziemer, the White House senior director for global health security, said the initiative would be extended to 2024. Such steep budget cuts, warn experts, will leave vulnerable nations unprepared for the next HIV or Ebola.

“Not only will CDC be forced to narrow its countries of operations, but the U.S. also stands to lose vital information about epidemic threats garnered on the ground through trusted relationships, real-time surveillance, and research,” read a letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar by a coalition of global health organizations.

The downsizing is being seen as another example of the Trump administration’s isolationism and neglect for global health crises: In 2017, the White House sought to gut $242 million from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a key initiative of President George W. Bush’s that has proven effective in curtailing HIV infections in Africa.

The new CDC cuts come just weeks after President Trump was reported to have referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries,” and a month after the New York Times reported Trump declared that Haitians entering the U.S. “all have AIDS.”

Trump was also criticized for omitting LGBT people, people of color, and other at-risk communities in his World AIDS Day address in December. Days later the Trump administration directed the CDC to stop using certain words in budget requests, including, “fetus,” “transgender,” “diversity” and “science-based.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.