So says Chelsea Rice, a Boston.com staff writer in her provocatively titled piece, “104 Things More Likely to Kill you than Ebola:”
Ebola has made it to the U.S., and everyone is freaking out. They shouldn’t be—at least not until they’ve sufficiently freaked out about these 104 things that, according to nationwide data, are even more likely to kill them.
- Walking to work
- Hunting accidents
- Drawstrings on your jacket
- Wrong-site surgery
This should not be taken as demeaning the suffering of any Ebola victims anywhere, and especially the horrific conditions faced by those living in nations hit especially hard in West Africa.
It is, however, a reminder that despite the constant drumbeat of fear coming from cable news and internet pundits that the threat to Americans remains astonishingly low. A couple of other favorites from that list:
- Falling in the shower
- Bunk bed accidents
- Mowing the lawn
- Roller coasters
- Bouncy houses
What has surprised me most about this entire situation is the lack of calls for increased public health spending. There are cries for cutting off travel to afflicted nations, increased monitoring at our international airports, and even attempts to tie this situation with border security. However, I haven’t heard a peep about cuts to spending on public health. A note to advocates out there: if not a teachable moment, it is definitely what they call a “hook” in making the case to spend more on public health. While it may seem unseemly, this is the time to push your argument.
One of the few exceptions, that unfortunately makes a weak case in my opinion, is from Frances Bevington of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. While Ms. Bevington lays out a scholarly argument, it unfortunately won’t move any Congressional officials to increase grant funding, nor state or local decision makers to shift limited resources back to public health. She concludes:
Will cuts in preparedness funding to local health departments make an Ebola outbreak in the United States more likely? The answer is no. The conditions that would limit the spread of Ebola, including better infection control in healthcare facilities and different cultural traditions, are not factors influenced by preparedness funding at local health departments. Despite funding cuts, the public health workforce stands ready to do whatever is necessary to stop Ebola from spreading. But those cuts have put deep dents in the public health shield that protects the lives of all Americans and make it more likely that local health departments faced with even a few cases of Ebola would significantly strain their already thinly stretched workforce and financial resources during the response.
Her point is correct. And I’m not asking for people to stretch the facts to make a point. Nor hype the threat of Ebola. But it might do some good to point out at least a little more strongly that the systems, infrastructure, and most importantly people protecting this nation from an outbreak of Ebola have recently experienced significant cuts in their funding. There is probably no better time to make the argument for increased public health funding than when both CNN and Fox reference the public health system roughly at least once each hour.