Public health experts: Deadly global pandemic is inevitable but Trump administration is unprepared for it

Many fear the world is at risk of an infectious disease outbreak that could be more deadly than a nuclear attack, and the United States is unprepared for it.

The U.S. is especially vulnerable to a global epidemic because the Trump administration has yet to fill key public health positions within the government, health and national security experts told The Washington Post.

Those vacant positions include a permanent director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as sub-Cabinet posts at the Department of Health and Human Services for health, global affairs or preparedness and response.

Even more worrisome: President Donald Trump has proposed severe cuts to the budgets of the government agencies that work to stop deadly outbreaks. Trump’s proposed budget cuts would slash $72 million from the budget for global health security at USAID, the Post reported, in addition to 18% from the National Institute of Health budget, including $1 billion for the Centers for the CDC to fund essential public health programs, such as the prevention of disease outbreaks.

“We need people in position to help steer the ship,” Steve Davis, chief executive of PATH, a Seattle-based international health technology nonprofit working with countries to improve their ability to detect disease, told The Post. “We are actually very concerned.”

Public health experts told CNN that the world is at greater risk of experiencing a large-scale pandemic because of growing populations and urbanization, climate change, global travel and doctor and nurse shortages in countries where outbreaks are most likely to occur.

It's not a matter of if there will be a global pandemic, experts say, it’s just a matter of when.  And the public must be prepared to protect themselves. A new documentary, Unseen Enemy, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, that premiered Friday night on CNN for World Health Day, illustrated the dangers of an infection that could wipe out an entire population.

Although experts worry about the rise of drug-resistant superbugs and newer viruses, they said the next big disease outbreak is more likely to be a highly lethal flu pandemic. To contain it, Sanjay Gupta, M.D., chief medical correspondent for CNN, wrote that hospital staff will have to recognize when a patient arrives with a novel virus and doesn’t fit the patterns taught in medical school.

But it will also requires a vaccine, which means research and development money and unprecedented partnerships between governments to ensure the new vaccine is distributed and administered.