How the U. S. health system could catch up to Nigeria

In 2014, Nigeria had 19 cases of Ebola. They marshaled their resources to trace contacts and quickly fought back a deadly, contagious disease. [1]

With the tool of contact tracing, Nigeria won their Ebola battle. They used experience that was already in place to fight back Ebola. Nigeria’s health system had eradicated polio and it stopped Ebola too. This is a lesson that health systems can have flexible responses and fight different kinds of epidemic.

Contact tracing is an important activity that needs community support. Effective contact tracing also requires planning. If no one knows how it works, they can’t react quickly. We should develop epidemic response teams. They need experience so that they can be vigilant and fight any new disease.

An parallel to epidemic response teams are the tornado sirens in the Midwest. The sirens are regularly tested and people know what they mean. Epidemics are a natural disaster equivalent to tornadoes. When people know the steps to prevent an epidemic, they will be willing to aid the process instead of fight it. Communities’ experience with epidemic responses will help overcome individual’s lack of trust.

To let the health reaction teams do their best, it would be prudent to have the systems already functioning. With test runs and vigilance, our reaction to any epidemic disease can be rapid and effective. Each disease is different. The model for combating measles and the mumps are similar, but they are not identical to the one needed for Zika. Creativity and experience are a must.

The testing of the system does not need to be theoretical. We already have periodic small epidemics that can test epidemic response teams. Measles is one example because outbreaks happen randomly when the disease is imported [2]. Another real-life example is the mumps. Outbreaks periodically happens on college campuses. One is happening now in Indiana and our reaction should be more effective. HIV & AIDS are an ongoing test. AIDS doesn’t spread as rapidly as measles or the mumps, but the same tools can help.

Existing vaccinations help prevent epidemics. The U. S. is backward in this area because of our attitudes on freedom. Those attitudes aren’t compatible with what the country needs to prevent unnecessary deaths.

The CDC reports another barrier for an epidemic response is financial. Epidemic response teams need discretionary funds and the authority to release those funds immediately. Any delay will worsen an epidemic. Epidemic responses teams need their funding allocated before the epidemic starts. The budgets for disease tracing and other tools need to be flexible. [3, p. 11]

Support for thorough contact tracing is critical. We need teams trained and ready for an epidemic. Their services should be used automatically when a potential epidemic is detected. We need to develop public experience and education on the steps that will defeat an epidemic. We need extensive use of vaccinations when they are available. Finally, money is needed for a rapid response. This economic support can allow the other components react decisively.

With these components, the U.S. health system will be able to easily defeat any currently unknown epidemic or bio-terrorism and surpass Nigeria’s Ebola success. We could have more confidence in our health system and in its ability to protect us.

[1] “Nigeria is now free of Ebola virus transmission.” http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/ebola/20-october-2014/en/. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
[2] “Measles: Cases and Outbreaks.” http://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
[3] “Emergency Guideline: Implementation and management of contact tracing for Ebola virus disease.” http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/185258/1/WHO_EVD_Guidance_Contact_15.1_eng.pdf. Retrieved June 7, 2016.

[edit 2016-06-10: clarified last paragraph]

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