The GOP’s Ebola death panels

Remember when Sarah Palin was campaigning against the Affordable Care Act and coined the term “death panels”?

Palin incorrectly insisted that the legislation would empower bureaucrats to decide who would be eligible for care and who wouldn’t. Those who wouldn’t, presumably would be allowed to die.

Well, the ACA passed and is now in place. And we do in fact have death panels. Just not the ones Palin envisaged.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Republicans took that term and created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Preventing the expansion of Medicaid in a number of states is producing the same result as the death panels. The Republicans have decided that some people don’t deserve affordable health insurance. And some of them will die because of the Republicans’ attitude.

They would have also produced death panels if any of their attempts to repeal the ACA had worked. Millions who had finally been able to get insured would have lost their coverage. And for many, that quite literally means death.

The GOP has also instituted death panels when they legislate the closure of abortion clinics.

Or add needless requirements (ultrasounds, counseling) onto pregnant women seeking an abortion.

Well, the Republicans have done it again, possibly on a much grander scale this time, with Ebola.

President Obama asked for $88 million to help combat the Ebola outbreak in Africa. Honestly, we probably need to contribute much more. Just looking at the outbreak from a selfish viewpoint (a specialty of the Republicans), Ebola could get to the US. By investing in quarantining and treating it in Africa, and funding research on drugs to cure and prevent it, we could be helping ourselves. But, not surprisingly, the Republicans have taken the headsman’s axe to the President’s request. They want to make death panels go international.

Symptoms of Ebola, by Mikael Häggström.

Symptoms of Ebola, by Mikael Häggström.

Obama wanted to give $53 million to the Biological Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). BARDA oversees the development and coordination of experimental drugs and therapies to treat diseases. Remember, Ebola has no proven treatment that is effective. There are a few vaccines and other drugs, like ZMapp (and others), that still need to be produced and tested in animals and humans. $53 million isn’t very much at all to get these processes moving for a number of possible therapies. The Republicans cut the BARDA funding from $53 million all the way down to $15 million.

Remember, developing these therapies could benefit everyone, those currently infected and those yet to contract the disease. The rest of the budget request from President Obama was to go to the CDC. The CDC has sent and is continuing to send personnel to Africa. It is monitoring progress in the affected areas, gathering data and developing statistics and providing its expertise and laboratory proficiency with Ebola to the countries involved. The Republicans cut the CDC’s part of the appropriation, as well, though not so much as they did with BARDA.

The Republicans are doing this as the Ebola epidemic continues to grow. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, the outbreak is virtually out of control. Guinea is a little better. Ebola has spread from the mega-city of Lagos, in Nigeria, to another area of the country, Port Harcourt. It’s also spread to Senegal. There’s also an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The WHO is seriously concerned over the continuing spread of the outbreak and has earmarked over $100 million for the area. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is donating $50 million. The CDC has said that the outbreak is spiraling out of control, and that government officials and world leaders need to pay serious attention to it. Doctors Without Borders has essentially said that Ebola is out of control and that they can no longer cope with it. And this group is responsible for providing the lion’s share of medical care in the area.

For both the WHO and CDC to show this degree of alarm implies that things are extremely serious in the area.

I’d guess that the outbreak is going to continue to spread for a number of reasons best detailed in another post. In addition to just the ever-increasing number of those infected, there’s another problem. As President Obama mentioned, there is a concern that Ebola may mutate to a form that may be even easier to catch. Ebola mutates easily. The more infections there are, the higher the number of mutations that can occur. So minimizing the spread is crucial to decreasing the total number of mutations.

The involved countries, mostly incredibly poor, with no medical infrastructure to speak of, are desperate. They don’t have enough health care workers, basic supplies (body bags, hand sanitizer, boot, etc.) to even begin to cope with the epidemic. They have isolation wards (an oxymoron in this case) that might hold 80 patients but they have hundreds of patients who need to be isolated. Some of the countries have swallowed their pride and are literally begging for help: supplies, volunteers, medicine, isolation equipment, funds – anything.

Yet in spite of all of this information, pleas and warnings, the Republicans continue to make cuts, cuts that may eventually affect us here in the US. What the Republicans are doing is morally reprehensible. Not only are they playing political games with a deadly viral outbreak in Africa, by their actions they may be putting thousands of Americans at risk, as well. These are the same Republicans who, a week or two ago, were worrying about Ebola coming across our border with Mexico. They were up in arms about a fantasy scenario there, but are complacent about something real and immensely dangerous happening right now. Are they willing to do these political maneuvers because Ebola is far away? Because only Africans are dying? Because they want to embarrass President Obama and the Democrats?

Whatever reason they have, or think they have, it’s not sufficient.

Let me propose a different scenario. Imagine if Ebola viruses were the size of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the affected countries had a few hundred of the Ebola ICBMs pointed at the United States. I can imagine that those same Republicans who are so enthusiastically slashing Obama’s budget request, would be screaming hysterically for billions of dollars to be spent, unlimited amounts of protective equipment would be ordered, and thousands of US personnel would be sent to the shores of Liberia, Sierra Leone and the other countries.

Perhaps President Obama should have requested the funds under the title “War on Ebola.” He might have gotten better results.

Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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