Chelsea Clinton is the Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation and teaches at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia. She completed her D.Phil in international relations at Oxford University, examining the first decade of the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. Devi Sridhar is a professor at the University of Edinburgh’s Medical School and holds the Chair in Global Public Health. Previously, she was associate professor in global health politics at Oxford University. They are the co-authors of “Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why?” The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the authors; view more opinion articles on CNN.
(CNN)The coronavirus that emerged from Wuhan, China, last year is causing alarm across the world, with fear that this could become the next pandemic. Late last month, the World Health Organization declared the virus, named COVID-19, a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” and urged an immediate international response.
its member states to put in place national preparedness plans and procedures for identifying and responding to any COVID-19 cases that might present. The death toll of more than 2,600
people far exceeds that of the SARS outbreak nearly 17 years ago.
This outbreak is terrifying for the tens of millions
of people impacted in Wuhan and in countries around the world, and it arguably could not come at a worse time for Americans.
There’s a famous adage in public health: “Outbreaks are inevitable; epidemics are not.”
That’s because experts across virology, genetics, epidemiology, mathematical modeling, political science, and anthropology are working to answer crucial questions, such as: When did the virus make the jump from animals to humans, and from which species? How widespread are cases, how infectious is the disease and how fatal is it?
Scientists are also conducting crucial research to help develop a vaccine, diagnose cases more rapidly and develop public health containment strategies. Under former President Barack Obama, infrastructure was established to respond to the Ebola and Zika outbreaks
and to ensure that they did not become pandemics.
Unfortunately, President Donald Trump has taken actions
that many doctors and experts agree will leave the US less prepared
to respond to COVID-19. He has eliminated the position of Global Health Czar and has repeatedly proposed cuts important to global health funding
— thankfully that have failed to pass in Congress.
He’s shown his antipathy toward addressing health emergencies like this one, most recently in his proposed 2021 budget for the Department of Health and Human Services, which would cut $3 billion
from response and preparedness funds. We write this with long experience in global health and having looked closely at outbreak prevention and response in our book, “Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why?”
Two aspects in particular worry us about the White House’s response, or lack thereof. We have a President uninterested in global health concerns, broadly disdainful of experts and recently obsessed with and distracted by his impeachment.
Trump has often shown deep ignorance and cruelty on issues of global health. During the Ebola outbreak, when he was still a reality TV host, he said the US should not allow Ebola-infected citizens and aid workers to come back to the US and should let them “suffer the consequences.”
He even deliberately spread misinformation, saying Ebola was: “Spreading all over Africa-and fast. Stop flights”
and “The U.S. must immediately stop all flights from EBOLA infected countries or the plague will start and spread inside our ‘borders.’ Act fast!”
He said this even though halting flights would bring potentially harmful consequences
, like “hindering info-sharing, medical supply chains and harming economies,” according to the World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebre