U.S. minimizes CDC's role in COVID-19 response: The Lancet
Updated 21:33, 15-May-2020
The CDC is the national public health institute of the United States. /Reuters

The CDC is the national public health institute of the United States. /Reuters

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flagship agency for the nation's public health, has seen its role minimized and become an ineffective and nominal adviser in the response to contain the spread of the coronavirus, The Lancet wrote in an article published on Friday. 

The medical journal attributed the inconsistent and incoherent national response to the COVID-19 crisis in the U.S. partly to the strained relationship between the federal government and the CDC as the pandemic continues to worsen in the country.

The CDC, once regarded as the gold standard for global disease detection and control, used to be a national pillar of public health and globally respected following its founding in 1946.

However, funding to the CDC for a long time has been subject to conservative politics that have increasingly eroded the agency's ability to mount effective, evidence-based public health responses, according to the article.

Screenshot of the article from The Lancet.

Screenshot of the article from The Lancet.

How Trump administration further crippled the CDC's capacity to combat COVID-19

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.

At a press conference on February 25, Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, warned U.S. citizens to prepare for major disruptions to movement and everyday life. Messonnier subsequently no longer appeared at the White House briefings on COVID-19.

More recently, the Trump administration has questioned guidelines that the CDC has provided. These actions have undermined CDC's leadership and its work during the COVID-19 pandemic, it pointed out.

The Trump administration's further erosion of the CDC will harm global cooperation in science and public health, as it is trying to do by defunding the WHO, it insisted.   

A strong CDC is needed to respond to public health threats 

Although the CDC has also made mistakes, especially in sending faulty test kits during the early stage of the pandemic, punishing the agency by marginalizing and hobbling it is not the solution, the article said. 

A strong CDC is needed to respond to public health threats, both domestic and international, and to help prevent the next inevitable pandemic. And 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 Trump Administration is obsessed with silver bullets – vaccines, new medicines, or a hope that the virus will simply disappear. But only a steadfast reliance on basic public health principles, like testing, tracing, and isolating, will see the emergency brought to an end, and this requires an effective national public health agency.  

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, it concluded.