The coronavirus pandemic reached a grim milestone this week: worldwide, more than 300,000 people have died from COVID-19 — and over 86,200 of them died in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. With the United States’ death count continuing to soar, The Lancet, one of the most pretigious medical journals, delivered a blistering rebuke to the Trump administration for its handling to the crisis.
Most of The Lancet’s articles are not political in nature, but in a biting editorial published this week, The Lancet stresses that Trump’s administration has made the U.S. ill-prepared to cope with a pandemic. The publication calls Trump and his allies, in particular, for the dismal performance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which the Lancet said “has seen its role minimised and become an ineffective and nominal adviser in the response to contain the spread of the virus.”
The strained relationship between the CDC and the federal government was further laid bare when, according to The Washington Post, Deborah Birx, the head of the US COVID-19 Task Force and a former director of the CDC’s Global HIV/AIDS Division, cast doubt on the CDC’s COVID-19 mortality and case data by reportedly saying: “There is nothing from the CDC that I can trust”. This is an unhelpful statement, but also a shocking indictment of an agency that was once regarded as the gold standard for global disease detection and control. How did an agency that was the first point of contact for many national health authorities facing a public health threat become so ill-prepared to protect the public’s health?
The Lancet notes that some Republican presidential administrations of the past underfunded the United States’ health care systems. For example, President Ronald Reagan’s administration, according to The Lancet, “resisted providing the sufficient budget that the CDC needed to fight the HIV/AIDS crisis” in the 1980s — and in the 2000s, President George W. Bush’s administration “put restrictions on global and domestic HIV prevention and reproductive health programming.”
And now it’s only gotten worse:
The Trump administration further chipped away at the CDC’s capacity to combat infectious diseases. CDC staff in China were cut back with the last remaining CDC officer recalled home from the China CDC in July, 2019, leaving an intelligence vacuum when COVID-19 began to emerge. In a press conference on Feb 25, Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, warned US citizens to prepare for major disruptions to movement and everyday life. Messonnier subsequently no longer appeared at White House briefings on COVID-19. More recently, the Trump administration has questioned guidelines that the CDC has provided. These actions have undermined the CDC’s leadership and its work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump and his allies, The Lancet laments in its editorial, are expecting a quick and easy solution to a difficult health crisis. His administration, according to The Lancet, “is obsessed with magic bullets: vaccines, new medicines or a hope that the virus will simply disappear. But only a steadfast reliance on basic public health principles — like test, trace and isolate — will see the emergency brought to an end, and this requires an effective national public health agency. The CDC needs a director who can provide leadership without the threat of being silenced and who has the technical capacity to lead today’s complicated effort.”
The Lancet wraps up its editorial by stressing what the country needs: “A strong CDC is needed to respond to public health threats, both domestic and international, and to help prevent the next inevitable pandemic. Americans must put a president in the White House, come January 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics.”