The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) asks that Congress approve the FY 2018 budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to a level of at least $7.8 billion. As the Nation’s leading health protection agency, the CDC has immense responsibilities to identify and respond to emerging pathogens, to improve vaccines, to help solve foodborne outbreaks, and to ensure that we are prepared for the next potential deadly disease. CDC plays a key role to counter challenges like the spread of diseases by globalization, emerging drug resistant pathogens, biothreats to our national security, and disease causing contaminants within our complex food supply.
CDC activities are unique in the U.S. public health system. The agency protects communities by providing services not performed by other agencies and by collaborating with local, state, federal, and international stakeholders. The ASM is concerned that fluctuating or inadequate budgets will disrupt ongoing CDC functions that safeguard our Nation, such as extensive disease surveillance networks, preventive education for health care providers and the general public, and science based threat identification at CDC laboratories and in the field. Threats like emerging pathogens and sporadic food contamination are, and always will be, significant and constant obstacles to the nation’s health and safety.
Among CDC’s hallmark capabilities are the agency’s skillful rapid responses to emerging microbial pathogens, like those mobilized to counter the arrival in this country of Zika virus. During 2015, Zika emerged as the cause of widespread illness in Brazil with links to newborns’ microcephaly, and CDC personnel prepared for Zika’s eventual spread north. In January 2016, CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center to help coordinate the U.S. response to Zika, issued international travel notices, and released its first Zika related clinical guidance on testing women and infants. Other CDC actions followed, including investigating domestic transmission of mosquito borne Zika virus in Texas and Florida, confirming U.S. cases of sexual transmission, developing diagnostic tests and distributing them to roughly 100 countries, implementing vector control strategies, establishing Zika reporting systems, and more.
CDC responses to Zika in this country are potent reminders of the resources and effort necessary to counter new and emerging health threats. Unfortunately, CDC preparations last year also included months of waiting for Congress to approve requested emergency Zika funding. The ASM strongly advocates for a permanent, earmarked rapid response fund for federal agencies to access quickly against unanticipated threats like Zika or Ebola infection and other microbial outbreaks. This proposed Rapid Response Reserve Fund should contain at least $2 billion in new funding and should be located at the Department of Health and Human Services, to be accessed as needed by federal agencies responsible for U.S. public health such as CDC and the National Institutes of Health. Past experiences with disease outbreaks like SARS show how critical it is to respond fully and immediately to impending threats, to save lives and prevent excessive economic losses.
CDC initiatives have reduced the numbers of healthcare acquired infections, prevented new cases of childhood diseases like measles, halted outbreaks caused by contaminated fresh produce and other foods, and alerted its public health partners to newly identified diseases. Surveillance data from CDC show that this level of vigilance must continue with strong funding from the Congress. As examples, one in six Americans becomes sick every year from contaminated foods, and there are nearly 20 million new U.S. cases of sexually transmitted diseases. Cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are rising. Over 1.2 million Americans live with HIV infection, 1 in 8 undiagnosed.
The CDC leads national and international campaigns against increasing numbers of microbial pathogens resistant to available antimicrobial drugs. Federal investments against antimicrobial resistant (AR) infections should be expanded through greater resources for the CDC and its partners in the National Action Plan for Combatting Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria (CARB). The ASM considers these infections to be among the greatest challenges to our Nation’s health today. For example, of the 820,000 U.S. gonorrhea infections each year, about 246,000 are resistant to one or more commonly used antibiotics. Cases of AR infections in healthcare facilities are rising, including the 9,000 caused annually by highly resistant Enterobacteriaceae. The CDC estimates that preventing AR infections and improving antibiotic prescribing could save 37,000 lives over five years.
Increased funding for the CDC budget is necessary to sustain the agency’s science based activities at levels needed to fully safeguard against health and biosecurity risks, whether relatively common foodborne illnesses or newly emerging pathogens just identified as potential threats. Each CDC program must have adequate FY 2018 funding to readily access the latest computing, communication and laboratory technologies and to maintain research and training activities. The CDC provides experienced field investigators, laboratory facilities, educational resources, and guidance documents to all sectors of public health and national security. Its partnerships with industry, governments, academia, research institutions, healthcare workers and others extend across the country and around the world.
We appreciate this opportunity to submit a statement in support of protecting the Nation’s health and offer our assistance to Congress during the budget process.