“I think the best way to phrase my comments on the Ebola crisis today are to quote the great contemporary philosopher, Yogi Berra, ‘It’s déjà vu all over again,’” said Bob Kadlec as he opened a panel discussion on Ebola at The Heritage Foundation on Monday. The panel, which included Charlotte Florance of The Heritage Foundation, Dr. Tevi Troy, and Dr. Tara O’Toole, approached the topic from a historical background and emphasized the need for both governmental and health care preparedness.
The threat of spreading disease will increase in the world, according to O’Toole, but this should not cause alarm. The U.S. Agency for International Development is leading the humanitarian efforts abroad and the U.S.’s state of the art medical facilities can contain the virus in the homeland. While technology increasingly connects the world, it also provides means to control the spread of disease. Kadlec noted, “There is no such thing as just-in-time preparedness.… [Y]ou have to put your mind to it.” Health care providers need to be prepared with training and personal protective equipment for health care workers.
Ebola adds a new layer of problems to the already existing one in western Africa, Charlotte Florance noted. The political and economic instability is heightened by an inadequate infrastructure. Schools have been closed, hospitals have been converted to care exclusively for Ebola patients, and food prices have been steadily rising. This ensures that long after the epidemic has subsided the consequences of a slow response will still be felt.
In his remarks, Troy addressed presidential leadership and the historical precedent which showed the need for strong leadership. The 1918 Great Influenza hit the U.S. hard during World War I, and President Wilson failed to act to contain its spread. The epidemic claimed 600,000 lives in the U.S.
The takeaway from the panel is that the U.S. must do a better job handling this crisis as well as preparing for future ones. According to The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano, President Obama needs to lead efforts on Ebola:
Crisis management is [a] critical task of presidential leadership. For Washington to give the American people the confidence Obama is doing his part, he will have to do more than exhibiting the trappings of leadership we see on TV shows like the West Wing.
These efforts cannot just be domestic and internally focused; it will take international efforts to contain Ebola—but it can be done. The panel agreed that the U.S. must help defeat Ebola in Western Africa or it will become harder to stop in the future.
In spite of initial missteps, the federal government must learn from its mistakes and past history so that it can overcome this current outbreak and prepare for future epidemics.
Ellen Prichard is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.