At least 18 people have died in what appears to be the worst outbreak of the Ebola virus since a catastrophic 2014 epidemic in western Africa claimed more than 11,000 lives. The new outbreak has so far been confined to a remote region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but health authorities fear that the disease could quickly spread across borders into neighboring countries including Central African Republic and Nigeria — and from there to other continents and countries including the United States.
Health care workers have already been affected by the virus, including one who has died from the disease, which increases the "amplification factor" of the Ebola outbreak according to Peter Salama, a top World Health Organization official. The outbreak, first reported on May 8, has already hit three separate geographical areas over a 37 mile spread, also increasing the likelihood that the fast-acting, highly contagious virus could spread quickly. Contacts with the body fluids of an infected victim, including sweat or saliva, can cause a healthy person to contract the disease.
But despite the fact that during the 2014 outbreak he slammed President Barack Obama for what he called a "TOTAL incompetent" response to the possibility of Ebola cases reaching the United States, Donald Trump this week announced cuts of $252 million in funding for a U.S. response to a potential Ebola plague, calling the cut part of his move to stop "irresponsible Federal spending."
Trump's requests for the cut to Ebola response funds, which were put in place by Obama in 2015, came on March 8, the same day that the new outbreak of Ebola — which has 32 known victims including the 18 dead — was first revealed. The World Health Organization says that it is preparing for a "worst case scenario" in the 2018 Ebola outbreak.
"The number of suspected, probable and confirmed cases is significant, so we are very concerned, and we are planning for all scenarios, including the worst-case scenario," Salama said on Friday, according to a CNN report.
After the catastrophic 2014 outbreak, Obama went to Congress and passed a $5.4 billion package of funding for dealing with any possible Ebola outbreak. The $252 million in cuts proposed by Trump is the amount remaining in that Obama-era package, according to a report in The Atlantic magazine — leaving nothing specifically allocated to deal with any future Ebola epidemic.
At the same time, Trump is demanding a cut of $30 million in emergency response cash contained in the U.S. State Department Complex Crisis Fund, a small pool of money created by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to deal with disease outbreaks, including Ebola, and other emergencies.
According to Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning science journalist, in an article for Foreign Policy magazine this week, Trump's only rationale for cutting the Ebola and State Department crisis funds is "personal animus" toward Obama and Clinton.
"The entire global health community would agree that cutting funding is a bad idea," Georgetown University global health expert Rebecca Katz told The Daily Beast online magazine on Thursday. "An outbreak anywhere can be everywhere within a matter of days. Viruses do not respect political boundaries, which means we have a collective risk and a collective responsibility to prevent, detect, and respond."
During the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, there were four reported cases of the Ebola virus reaching the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While three of those victims made full recoveries, one — Liberian national Thomas Duncan — died of the disease in Texas more than a week after arriving in the United States.
Duncan was not diagnosed with Ebola before leaving Liberia, but began to suffer symptoms a few days after reaching the U.S. Two nurses who treated Duncan at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas also contracted Ebola from their contact with him, but both recovered.