The U.S. badly bungled its response to the deadly Ebola virus, says a new report from the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.
The country's response to the virus was primarily focused on concerns that Americans would catch Ebola through contact with visitors from West African nations affected by the outbreak rather than addressing meaningful relief for those nations, the report states.
U.S. troops were not deployed to the virus zone until after the death of Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who was initially misdiagnosed at a Dallas hospital and later died, and two of his nurses were infected with the virus. Meanwhile, insufficient funding held up research into long-developing vaccines and treatments for the virus, and forced health officials to rush the development and testing process.
Instead of addressing these issues, the report states, the U.S. response was politicized and often hysterical, as in the case of healthcare workers who were forcibly quarantined despite displaying no symptoms of the virus. As the Ebola cases slow down in West Africa, it's vital that health officials take lessons from it for future outbreaks, the report states. The Commission calls for stronger healthcare and emergency response infrastructure, and comprehensive integration of ethics expertise in every aspect of public health emergency planning.
"Public health preparedness requires ethics preparedness," Commission Chair Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., said in a statement. "We need to be prepared, for example, to communicate early and often during an Ebola epidemic--drawing upon the best scientific evidence--why not to quarantine asymptomatic individuals. Needlessly restricting the freedom of expert and caring healthcare workers is both morally wrong and counterproductive; it will do more to lose than to save lives."
Public education is also vital, the report states, as Americans have numerous misconceptions about public health policy. A survey found on average, Americans believe 26 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid, with 61 percent calling that figure too high. In reality, foreign aid is less than 1 percent of the budget.