In a rare move, medical journal The Lancet has published a scathing editorial, calling on Americans to vote for a president who can “understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics.”
Titled ‘Reviving the U.S. CDC,’ the editorial takes the Trump administration to task for reducing the role played in the coronavirus pandemic by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The Trump administration’s further erosion of the CDC will harm global cooperation in science and public health, as it is trying to do by defunding WHO,” The Lancet wrote.
“A strong CDC is needed to respond to public health threats, both domestic and international, and to help prevent the next inevitable pandemic. Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics.”
It added that the agency needs a “director who can provide leadership without the threat of being silenced and who has the technical capacity to lead today’s complicated effort.”
The country also carries a significant share of COVID-19 deaths: more than 86,000 people have died since the pandemic began. The U.K. has the second highest death toll at just over 34,000, and Italy has the third highest at close to 32,000 fatalities.
The Lancet outlines a deteriorating relationship between the U.S. federal government and the CDC, which it calls “the flagship agency for the nation’s public health.”
Founded in 1946, the CDC is “globally respected” and has trained scores of epidemiologists in the U.S. and overseas. But now, it has “seen its role minimised and become an ineffective and nominal adviser in the response to contain the spread of the virus.”
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As an example, The Lancet cites a May 9 article in the Washington Post, which cited two senior U.S. officials saying the head of the American COVID-19 task force undermined CDC data about the coronavirus.
“There is nothing from the CDC that I can trust,” Deborah Birx reportedly said, according to the Post’s sources.
The Lancet calls this reported statement “unhelpful” and “shocking.”
“How did an agency that was the first point of contact for many national health authorities facing a public health threat become so ill-prepared to protect the public’s health?” the journal wrote.
The Lancet notes that politics have “increasingly eroded” the CDC’s ability to response to public health matters. For instance, it says, the 1980s saw former president Ronald Reagan’s government not provide the funding needed to adequately respond to HIV/AIDS.
Similarly, the Bush administration placed controls on HIV prevention and reproductive health “programming” both worldwide and in the U.S., the Lancet wrote.
Citing a May post by retired American diplomat Jimmy Kolker, the Lancet says that Trump’s administration has “further chipped away at the CDC’s capacity to combat infectious diseases.”
In July 2019, the last CDC officer in China was brought back to the U.S., “leaving an intelligence vacuum” just as the novel coronavirus began to show.
Focusing too much on “magic bullets” such as vaccines, new treatments, or the hope that COVID-19 will evaporate and go away is not the answer, the journal says.
Test, trace, and isolate are the kinds of “basic” actions that can help end the pandemic.
This isn’t the first time The Lancet has penned a sharp-tongued editorial on an individual country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, it called Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro perhaps the biggest threat to the country’s response to the virus.
In that editorial, the Lancet said Bolsonaro’s dismissal of lockdown measures has been confusing for the country, which is fast emerging as one of the world’s coronavirus hot spots.
President Trump has touted America’s testing capabilities, insisting this week that his administration has “met the moment” and “prevailed” on testing — even though the responsiblity for testing continues to shift onto state governors.
An analysis by The Associated Press found an overwhelming majority of states still fall short of the COVID-19 testing levels that public health experts say are necessary to safely ease lockdowns in the U.S. and avoid a deadly second wave.
— With files by The Associated Press