The Obama Administration’s Mishandling of the Ebola Threat

“Unfortunately it seems that the White House is approaching this as a political matter, as a matter of political correctness. I mean this is simple common sense. This is a public health tragedy. We’ve already seen that Ebola has traveled to America – traveled to Dallas – and we need to do everything possible to protect American citizens. That should be the first obligation of the federal government. And the most common sense step is to impose a travel ban on travel from countries where there is ongoing Ebola outbreaks.” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)

By Georgiana Constantin l October 27, 2014

As the Ebola outbreak reeks havoc around the world it also threatens the U.S. In the face of such a dangerous disease, it is only natural that American citizens should be afraid for their safety and would want to know what exactly the Obama administration is doing to keep them safe.

Ignoring professional advice

In a 2008 transition memo, the Obama administration was given outbreak prevention advice by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC’s outlined plan “was based on the notion that the U.S. shouldn’t wait for a disease to enter the country but rather monitor threats in hot spots overseas to try to help local public health authorities control outbreaks before then,” the Washington Times reports. The memo also emphasized the CDC’s proposal for the establishment of 18 disease control centers “three in each WHO region” in order to “properly protect the nation.” Unfortunately, it would seem that “neither the White House nor the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, responded to messages about the recommendation for 18 regional centers.” Currently, “on its Web page, the agency [CDC] said it has eight regional centers running, with another two in development.”

Because of this shortfall, along with the impending Ebola threat, the U.S. is also facing trust in government issues.  In a recent Pew poll, “only 20 percent of the country has a ‘great deal’ of confidence that the federal government will be able to prevent a widespread Ebola outbreak on U.S. soil.”

It seems that with the increase in government spending, incidence of Islamic terrorism in the homeland, the ObamaCare controversies and Ebola outbreak, U.S. citizens have lost faith in their own elected officials.

Wasteful government spending

And it is no wonder, , as it would seem that even the CDC was part of this very unfortunate trend of abuse of trust. U.S. taxpayers paid “$6 billion in salaries and $25 million in bonuses to an elite corps of health care specialists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 2007,” and all this while “blaming a lack of money for the Obama administration’s lackluster response to the Ebola outbreak.” One of the officials, Donald Shriber, deputy director of policy and communication at the CDC’s Center for Global Health, reportedly received his highest bonus so far — “$62,895 in 2011 — netting $242,595 in take-home pay in a year when wages were supposed to be frozen.”

Also, the CDC  spent “$1.75 million over seven years on a ‘Hollywood liaison’ whose job was to help movie and television studios develop accurate plot lines about diseases” by tapping into “an account that was supposed to be used to develop responses to bio-terrorism.”

Adding to this, the modern looking and luxurious new headquarters and visitor’s center which opened in 2006, the $10 million spent on new office furniture, the $200,000 fitness center and $30,000 for on-site sauna further prove the wasteful behavior on the part of this public institution.

Moreover, “though the agency spent more than $2.6 billion on grants for HIV and AIDS research over five years, the CDC acknowledged that many of those grants ‘have no objectives’ or were otherwise useless. They kept funding them anyway.”

To make matters worse, the wasteful government spending list seems to be a long one, and on this list one can also find the prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH). Despite complaints of budget cuts affecting the venerable institution’s ability to come up with an anti-Ebola vaccine, the rate of financial misuse tells quite a different story. reports “NIH has worked on an Ebola vaccine for 13 years, during which time NIH received record funding, stimulus money, and a $1 billion budget increase in 2014. Yet, NIH failed to produce a workable final product.”

Some of the ways in which government money was spent by the NIH were discussed in a Forbes article. The list included studies focused on: Massages for Rabbits – $386,000; the Role of Breathing in Meditation $453,000; Integral Yoga on Hot Flashes – $108,790; Hypnosis for Hot Flashes – $484,260; The Placebo Effect of Acupuncture: Hot Flashes as a Clinical Model – $131,895, and so on.

In fact, U.S. and UK pharmaceutical companies Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline have already developed vaccines “and hope to produce millions of doses for use next year.”

Meanwhile, regardless of government unpreparedness or wasteful spending, the Ebola virus travels the world unabated, and, as of late, is taking U.S. victims as well.

Ebola timeline

The history of this terrible virus started in 1976 when it first surfaced in Sudan and Zaire. Its name was given by the Ebola River in Zaire. During the first outbreak, the Ebola Sudan strain infected more than 284 people and had a mortality rate of 53%. Then, the Ebola Zaire (EBOZ) strain emerged from Yambuku, Zaire and infected 318 people. It had the highest mortality rate out of all of the Ebola viruses (88%). There are two more known strains of the virus, Ebola Reston (EBOR) which “was first identified in 1989 when infected monkeys were imported into Reston, Virginia, from Mindanao in the Philippines” and Ebola Cote d’Ivoire, identified in 1994 “when a female ethologist performing a necropsy on a dead chimpanzee from the Tai Forest, Cote d’Ivoire, accidentally infected herself” during the procedure Unfortunately, in spite of all efforts, the natural reservoir of Ebola has still not been identified.

Ebola in the U.S: Is the situation under control?

In the U.S., on September 30, 2014, the CDC saw “the first laboratory-confirmed case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the United States in a person who had traveled to Dallas, Texas from West Africa.” Thomas Eric Duncan, also knows as “patient zero” eventually succumbed to the virus on October 8th. His family and friends, who were put under quarantine, have now been declared virus free and released, following a 21-day incubation period.

The two nurses, who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, also infected with Ebola, have recently been declared Ebola free and were released from quarantine.

The latest case involving the dreadful virus recently surfaced in New York, when Dr. Graig Spencer, aged 33, who returned from Guinea last week became symptomatic a few days ago. NY officials have stated that they are prepared to deal with Ebola and that everything is under control.

And yet, can it be under control?

The United States as well as Europe, which became truly aware of the danger after a Spanish nurse was infected with the virus, might not have serious outbreaks to deal with yet, however, flights from Ebola “hot zones” keep coming in, unabated. How can any situation be “under control” with so many risk factors involved?

The issue of banning such flights is currently a heated one with many supporters and just as many critics. U.S. Representative Dennis A. Ross, Senior Deputy Majority Whip plans to introduce legislation banning flights from Ebola impacted countries.

Senator Ted Cruz also addressed the topic in a recent interview. “Unfortunately it seems that the White House is approaching this as a political matter, as a matter of political correctness,” he iterated. “I mean this is simple common sense. This is a public health tragedy. We’ve already seen that Ebola has traveled to America – traveled to Dallas – and we need to do everything possible to protect American citizens. That should be the first obligation of the federal government. And the most common sense step is to impose a travel ban on travel from countries where there is ongoing Ebola outbreaks.” He went on to say that the Ebola screening set up at five U.S. airports is completely ineffective, as the virus has a 21 day incubation period, and people who are not yet symptomatic could walk right through the screening carrying the virus.

As if completely disregarding such heated debates, president Obama’s recent strategy has been to appoint a single person to supervise the Ebola situation reportedly stating: “It may make sense for us to have one person … so that after this initial surge of activity, we can have a more regular process just to make sure that we’re crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s going forward.”  Ron Klain, a U.S. lawyer and former chief of staff to Al Gore and Joe Biden is now “Ebola response coordinator,” or, better known, as the “Ebola czar.” Perhaps on an administrative level such a choice might make sense, however, Mr. Klain is not someone who has experience in dealing with deadly diseases or any medical issues for that matter.

So, in the end, just how seriously is the Obama administration taking the Ebola threat? Are citizens really protected? Is the matter truly being managed in the best way?

If one would analyze the level of public distrust, wasteful government spending, superficial crisis management solutions and poor investment in safety protocols, as we have seen in the case of U.S. nurses asking for proper training on how to deal with Ebola, the situation is a grim one.

Ebola is deadly and contagious. This is exactly how worst case national security threats look like. If the U.S. doesn’t act swiftly and decisively, disaster most certainly promises to do so.

Georgiana Constantin is a law school graduate who has studied International, European and Romanian law at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest and received her Masters from the Nicolae Titulescu University in Bucharest. Ms. Constantin, who is based in Romania, is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.