By Dr. Peter Mjos
The novel coronavirus COVID-19 is undeniably real and fearsome, not a hoax, as President Donald Trump initially and proudly declared. The other demonstrably injurious hoax perpetrated on all Americans and the world by Donald Trump is his despicable and now dangerous war on public health and safety.
In reality and truthfulness, concepts alien to Donald Trump, he has in the past two years made radical efforts to eviscerate the finest health and safety institutions in the U.S. and around the world.
In a shameful response to the emerging COVID-19 crisis, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed to transfer $136 million from other health programs: $36 million from the National Institutes of Health, $37 million from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, $4.9 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and $4.2 million from the Aging and Disability Services Program. But HHS Secretary Alex Azar will specifically not withdraw any amount from the border wall.
Fortune Magazine reports that over the past two years, the Trump administration has systematically been dismantling government agencies specifically designed to protect against pandemics like COVID-19.
They have eliminated funding for an Obama-era disease security program. In 2018, Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, whose responsibility was to lead a U.S. response to a pandemic such as COVID-19, left the administration as his global health team was disbanded.
In 2018, the CDC was forced to slash its efforts to prevent global disease outbreaks by 80%.
Trump has cut the Complex Crisis Fund, a $30 million emergency response pool at the secretary of state’s disposal to deploy disease experts (established by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton).
Overall, in 2018, Donald Trump called for an $18 billion reduction in health care spending, including slashing the global disease fighting budgets of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Security Council (NSC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
He eliminated global health security teams at NSC and DHS, and cut CDC by 9%.
These cuts have crippled the production and availability of COVID-19 test kits. Only 3% of public health labs have the proven CDC test kits.
Furthermore, recently he has sought a 16% CDC reduction, and a 10% HHS cut.
In 2019, he eliminated the Predict Program of our USAID, an institution established in 2009 to improve the “detection and discovery of zoonotic viruses (such as COVID-19) with pandemic potential”, a program credited with identifying nearly 1000 new zoonotic viruses.
The GOP, suddenly concerned, now requests $4 billion in funding, and the Democrats are seeking more than $8 billion. None of this would be necessary had these many invaluable programs and institutions not been cut.
The Trump response: Do not panic, no need to worry, it’s going to be just fine and it will all simply disappear with warm weather. His preparedness has been “incredible.”
He has muzzled the CDC, NIH and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci. No word from his Surgeon General, who ostensibly oversees the many institutions.
But, fear not, Donald Trump has assembled his response team, lead by none other than the eminent and ever-prayerful science skeptic, Vice President Mike Pence. So comforting.
Then there is his HHS Secretary, Alex Azar, former Lilly CEO, who notably doubled the price of insulin and who has no public health training, who declared to Congress that when a vaccine is available, it might be patented and licensed to Big Pharma and, unfortunately, might not be available to the poor and uninsured.
Trump stated “the low ratings of MSNDC (sic), CNN, and Comcast are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus (sic) look as bad as possible, and panicking markets.” “USA is in great shape.” It is the “ incompetent do-nothing Democrats’ fault.”
“Virology is not politics.” A pandemic threatens. Yet in Donald Trump’s mind, it is politics and the market — and him, of course — that are far superior to health and safety, understanding and compassion for all.
We, the people, must demand that science and public health dictate our response to this crisis.
Dr. Peter Mjos, M.D., is a retired physician living in Anchorage.