WASHINGTON — The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that he argued that American experts should stay in the outbreak zone of the latest Ebola epidemic but was overridden by others in the Trump administration because of security concerns.
“Those decisions are security decisions that really are outside the realm of my public health expertise,” said the director, Robert Redfield, who said he made a case to the Department of Health and Human Services about why public health experts should remain in the outbreak area but that, at the end of the day, his argument didn’t win out.
The CDC was forced to withdraw workers from the outbreak zone in the Democratic Republic of Congo several weeks ago amid security concerns. It’s unclear whether officials at HHS, which oversees the CDC, pushed for the Ebola experts to remain. But sources told STAT earlier this month that the State Department recommended they be withdrawn.
“I do think they’re at an enormous disadvantage by not having the expertise the CDC has on the ground,” Redfield said.
The CDC director said he would like to see “a small footprint of CDC employees” back in the area. He added: “I’d be happy to be one of them.”
Courtesy of Milken Institute
He made the comments during an interview with STAT Executive Editor Rick Berke at the opening session of the Milken Institute’s Future of Health Summit.
The outbreak in North Kivu province in the DRC has been worsening in recent weeks, with containment efforts hampered by ongoing violence. Response teams hoped that an experimental vaccine could help curb the epidemic but the security situation has made it difficult to track the course of the virus and to deliver the vaccine to those who need it.
As of Monday, there have been 238 confirmed and probable cases in this outbreak and 155 deaths.
The CDC has some of the most experienced Ebola epidemiologists in the world, and public health experts agree that their presence in the outbreak zone could help immensely. At the same time, they acknowledge that the security situation in North Kivu is perilous.
There have been repeated attacks by rebel forces on Beni, the current Ebola hot spot. The decision to withdraw the small number of Americans in the area was made after a deadly attack on DRC forces near the city in late August.