The CDC experiences cuts in funding, reprioritizes

The CDC experiences cuts in funding, reprioritizes

Over four years ago, Congress approved large amounts in funding to help the global disease outbreak branch around the time of the Ebola epidemic. According to the Washington Post, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now decreasing their aid to 39 countries and decreasing disease prevention as a whole by 80 percent.

Around $1.2 million was given by Congress to the CDC in order to prevent diseases from becoming more widespread and potent. This gave the U.S. the support it needed to fight infectious diseases.

Information courtesy of Washington Post. Infographic by Ella Witz and Alexis Siegler.

“We had five years to make investments and do capacity development and spend that $1.2 billion,” Jennifer Brooks, a Global Health CDC employee, said. “That expires next year in our fiscal year, which will be in the end of September 2019.

The CDC is making their budget cuts slowly, one by one. The area Brooks works in for global health has not yet been affected.

“We’re still waiting on what the next round of budget is going to look like for us,” Brooks said. “We know what our budget for this fiscal year looks like with the money that was about to expire and the additional money that was given to bridge that.”

According to Brooks, the CDC doesn’t knowand won’t until January when the new Congress is in placewhat future funding will look like.

Though this is a dramatic budget cut, the CDC has been preparing for it as they would for any budget change.

“We always have our stretch budget and then we have our current budget and then we have our ‘in case we get a certain percent of a decrease budget,’” Brooks said. “We have people who are trained in thinking like that too. It’s not just all epidemiologists and doctors; we have a lot of management and budget people.”

Brooks is optimistic on the way in which the CDC will deal with the budget cuts and hopes they will be awarded more funds from Congress in the future. However, for now this just means the CDC will narrow their focus to the countries most in need. They have sustained budget cuts before, and although this one is larger than usual, the CDC plans for dramatic changes.

“I’ve seen how it really kind of makes us innovatively and strategically and it makes us work with partners who can also make those kind of investments, too,” Brooks said. “So I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to continue working with those countries to keep that negative impact from happening.”

With the money the CDC was given four years ago, they were able to help other countries grow by developing their capability to address public health problems faster; however, like any budget cut, the CDC is aware of the negative effects it will have on other countries.

“If we as an agency have put $1.2 billion into something and were to just suddenly draw back and not take any of those countries further after we built relationships and built health infrastructure for them, that would be a huge devastation that really nobody wants to see,” Brooks said.

With the U.S. drawing back on funding, they will need to prioritize which countries need the most support and help them to a further extent. As a result of this, many countries will lack support that they originally received from the CDC; therefore, other countries will have to come together to pick up the slack.

“If you look at the Ebola effect on countries, they lost thousands of healthcare workers in the country,” Brooks said. “That’s not something that can be replaced overnight. They have to make huge investments in training workers and getting them experienced and getting them to a point where they can replace the people that died in the Ebola epidemic.”

According to Brooks, in the matter of global health there are other countries that are also helping prevent situations such as outbreaks, and the CDC has to think about this as well. The cuts in funding limit the U.S. action in global disease, but it doesn’t necessarily limit actions of other countries who can also help.  

“It’s really about how we come together in external partners and leverage the resources and leverage what’s already been done and who can make new investments in those areas as well,” Brooks said.

The cuts in funding could be the result of prioritization on domestic issues. Congress is unable to finance everything necessary to be addressed domestically or globally.

“We have to look at what are the highest priorities, what has the greatest impact on people because we are public health after all, so what is having the greatest impact on public health right now and prioritize those things,” Brooks said.

One of the pressing issues Congress and the CDC are aware of and prioritizing is the opioid epidemic. This issue has spiked in the past years and the CDC is taking action to address it with funds from Congress.

“Domestically, opioid use and abuse is a huge problem that we’ve got to come together as public health. We’ve let it go on too long, so now we have this epidemic,” said Brooks.

“CDC got in the last budget a little over $300 million for opioids. That was all new money that we did not have before,” Sean Cucchi, the Policy Director for Chronic Disease at CDC, said. “So that’s showing that there was a priority to spend on opioid abuse. So CDC got additional resources there. You can’t necessarily draw a straight line between that increase and a decrease to global [health].”

Though the CDC and Congress have decided to focus and increase funding for domestic problems, they are conscious of the decrease of funding in other branches.

“When you increase a budget for one public health thing, that typically means there’s going to be a decrease in other areas,” Cucchi said. “So we as an agency have to come together and prioritize what those public health programs and activities that we’re going to have to adjust to and address.”