Do The Freakin Math

Liberals and conservatives alike frequently rely on limited evidence, personal experience, religious beliefs or gut emotions to determine solutions for complex problems. From immigration to global warming - taxes to terrorism - or health care to free trade - analytical study is rare. Science based policy making isn’t the way of Washington. And the consequences are catastrophic. Change is urgently needed. Just do the freakin’ math.

Monday, May 30, 2011

AIDS not the only concern.

Dear Editor,
Dr. Fauci’s perspective on the history of HIV/AIDS (Sunday, May 29, 2011) was accurate but woefully incomplete. In 1981 my wife and I were living in San Francisco working to end world hunger. We had gay friends and colleagues but we were personally unfearful of the newly emerging infectious disease. It was only a few months after the birth of our first child in 1983 (the most inspiring moment for us) that we experienced the most terrifying thing thus far in our lives – a letter from the hospital where our child had been birthed. We were advised to be tested for HIV because of possible contamination of the blood transfusion my wife received during the birthing process. We were fine, but our view of the world had begun to change.
By 1988 we had moved to Washington DC to push for the key ingredient to ending hunger – “political will”. HIV/AIDS was now a national problem and with it’s international origins roughly understood yet highly controversial. By 1990 as advocacy director of an organization working to increase funding for global child survival programs the competition with other domestic and global federal budget priorities was paramount. HIV/AIDS programs and ‘population control/family planning’ were becoming primary rivals. They shouldn’t have been. Not with the new noncontroversial studies showing that new and reemerging infectious diseases were the most serious national security threat our nation faced when examined from the sheer loss of American lives and prosperity, and potential loss of American freedoms as pandemics invariably occur.
Prevention is always the most cost effective measure, and universal access to basic health care, clean water, sanitation, nutrition and primary education continued as the wisest investments. But the stovepipe short sighted nature of federal budgeting priorities put foreign policy funding below domestic priorities and humanitarian needs near the bottom of foreign policy objectives. Funding for global health efforts did rise in comparison to other domestic and foreign budget items but it remained woefully inadequate to really prevent or rapidly respond to potentially catastrophic threats from pandemics, biological weapons attacks or laboratory accidents.
Even today, nearly 10 years after the attacks on September 11 and Colin Powel’s poorly remembered speech at the UN citing HIV/AIDS as a greater threat to our national security than al Qaeda, is adequate funding for comprehensive global health efforts still lethally inadequate.
More Americans will die this year in US hospitals from infectious diseases they didn’t walk in with than from all the terrorist attacks and counterterrorism wars in the last 20 years. The emergence of drug resistant pathogens is a global issue. Pathogens know no nationality.
HIV/AIDS wasn’t the first global pandemic and it won’t be the last. Without adequate focus and funding for all global infectious disease rapid detection/response, research/development, prevention, and addressing the worst aspects of world poverty and injustice it is only a matter of time before we are all awakened from our sheltered existence by a world catastrophically changed by a natural or human caused pandemic. The continued daily death toll of 27,000 children from easily preventable malnutrition and related infectious diseases is still the greatest source of individual terror the world over. Prevention is still the best defense and most affordable. You wouldn’t know it following the current federal budget crisis. Pathogens change. Can we?


Sunday, May 01, 2011

Preperation and Prevention critical

Dear Editor,
Fareed Zakaria’s focus on “preparedness” is warranted but it’s grossly insufficient to address budget cost of dealing with catastrophic events that are predictable.
Zakaria’s wrong suggesting it wasn’t “possible to predict” events like 9-11 or the fall of the Soviet Union. Six months before 9-11 a bi partisan Presidential Commission on National Security in the 21st Century released its final report saying ‘Americans should prepare to die in large numbers on American soil’ from terrorism. At least 11 sources were found suggesting airliners could be used as missiles. Vice President Biden, as a Senator the day before 9-11 warned that terrorist would someday bring destruction to our shores in the ‘belly of an airplane’.
The gross inefficiencies that lead to the fall of the Soviet Union were as predictable as our own government’s ineffectiveness at dealing with national security threats related to our global interdependence using ‘independent’ national policies.
Peak oil, pandemics and genocides are a given. No guessing needed. Preventive global policies like funding universal access to clean water, safe sanitation, adequate nutrition, basic education and alternative energies are vital to preventing unprecedented crisis that will break our national economy trying to ‘prepare’ for.
It should be obvious to anyone following the budget crisis that reacting to devastation is economically unsustainable. Prevention is worth every penny. Zakaria nails the problem when he says we are “betting on continuity – which is the default mechanism for people and organizations.” This is a mental flaw our species can’t afford. Things change. We need do need to better adapt, but we need not waste vast sums of money preparing for things we can prevent. Wise investments on a global scale, like Congressman Keith Ellison’s House Resolution 157 calling for a new global Marshall plan should be made without delay.