Guarding against Ebola

Sr. Airman medical tech Bryant Wilson talks with Maj. Stephanie LaPierre, portraying the infected patient, during Exercise Mobility Solace Tuesday August 16, 2016. Grace Beahm/Staff

As far as we know, nobody on earth currently has Ebola. That’s a good thing. But that doesn’t mean Congress should allow funding for research into infectious disease outbreaks to drop off a cliff next year when an aid package created during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 runs out.

In his budget released on Monday, President Trump announced plans to scale back Centers for Disease Control and Prevention efforts to study and fight epidemics worldwide by about half. Programs in 39 of 49 countries could be cut, according to The Washington Post.

Since 2014, the CDC has spent about $600 million as part of an aggressive effort to learn more about predicting, detecting and containing infectious disease outbreaks. A team of CDC researchers in Congo were able to react to an Ebola outbreak last year so quickly that only a handful of people died, for example.

By contrast, the 2014 outbreak in West Africa — the largest in history — cost the U.S. more than $5 billion in emergency aid and public health initiatives. In other words, keeping the CDC well-funded is the fiscally responsible approach.

Besides, it’s not just Ebola that we should be concerned about.

The past few years have seen sporadic outbreaks of other life-threatening diseases including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Zika, chikungunya, cholera and even the flu.

Fortunately, the United States has mostly been spared from the worst of those and other epidemics. But the speed and frequency of global travel suggests that may not always be the case.

We should be prepared.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly emphasized his “America First” approach to governing. But tracking and treating diseases abroad helps keep them from hitting home. And a few million dollars in CDC funding pales in comparison to the existential disaster that would result from something like an Ebola outbreak in the United States.

It would be chaos.

The more we know about how diseases spread and evolve, the better prepared we will be to manage more common but still-serious threats like the particularly nasty flu that has circulated around the country this winter. Millions have been sickened and thousands hospitalized nationwide.

More than 100 have died in South Carolina.

Of course, Mr. Trump’s budget is only a blueprint. Congress will have the final say on CDC funding. But ongoing political chaos — including a recent government shutdown — over congressional spending priorities does not inspire confidence. Indeed, that uncertainty alone can harm vital research efforts.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, or so goes the saying. Invest in efforts to study, track, prevent and control diseases abroad so we don’t have to fight them here.