Another US health agency with blood on its hands
Donald Trump pledged to clean up the dysfunctional Veterans Administration. He should add to his list reforming the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the other health agency with blood on its hands.
A scary new superbug — Candida auris — has popped up in hospitals in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Maryland. So far, this lethal infection has sickened 13 patients, killing four of them, according to the CDC’s latest disease tracking.
“We need to protect vulnerable patients,” declares CDC head Dr. Thomas Frieden. Don’t believe him. He’s all talk, no action. On his watch, superbugs have continued to rage through hospitals. The new Trump administration should dump Frieden and install a CDC head who will finally take meaningful action to make our hospitals safer.
Hospital infections kill at least 75,000 people a year — double the toll from car accidents and over 10 times the toll from HIV/AIDS. But under Frieden, the CDC is ignoring the peril, and putting the agency’s resources, staff and attention elsewhere. In a recent interview, Frieden doubled down, insisting “there’s more to disease prevention than stopping infectious diseases.” Huh?
The agency was founded to stop infectious diseases, and that mission is more vital than ever. Superbugs — infections that aren’t cured by most antibiotics — make it more and more dangerous to go to a hospital. Even routine procedures like bypass surgery and C-sections can turn deadly.
Frieden insists the agency’s domestic priorities are reducing auto accidents and curbing smoking, obesity and teen pregnancy. Hospital safety doesn’t even make his top 10.
Even worse than Frieden’s nanny state mentality is his severe case of globalism. He says his highest priority is eradicating polio, though there were only 74 cases last year, all in remote corners of the world, none in the United States.
Frieden’s misguided and wildly expensive philosophy is that “a disease threat anywhere is a disease threat everywhere.”
The CDC has 1,700 workers employed in over 60 countries. It’s literally taking over the role of the World Health Organization, except at US taxpayers’ expense, according to Princeton expert Ramanan Laxminarayan.
Meanwhile preventing infections in US hospitals gets meager funding, even though preventing these infections could save the nation $35 billion a year in needless treatment costs. That, on top of saving lives.
The agency is building health infrastructure from scratch for poor countries, including laboratories, disease detection and reporting systems, and training programs for medical personnel. Not just in the three countries affected by Ebola, but throughout Africa and Asia. Never mind that many health departments in the United States are hampered by a lack of these facilities to detect emerging superbugs and threats like Zika.
At times the priorities are laughable. The CDC sprang into action and sent staff to Kazakhstan when it was discovered that scientists there weren’t publishing enough research papers in medical journals. In response, the CDC proudly launched “multiple programs to improve scientific output of Central Asia scientists.”
Yet the CDC stood by idly when the deadly germ CRE emerged in New York hospitals a decade ago. Now that germ has spread to hospitals nationwide.
And what about C. diff, which kills 29,000 people in America each year? Two recent studies in leading medical journals show that C. diff can linger on the surfaces in a hospital room for two years, putting every patient placed in that room at a substantial infection risk.
Hospital rooms are cleaned so inadequately that over half the surfaces are overlooked, leaving C. diff to lurk. But the CDC has done virtually nothing to improve hospital cleaning procedures.
Rather than recommending new technologies that fog rooms with disinfectants, kill germs with UV light or use ionized water, the CDC dawdles year after year, saying “more research is required.” Maybe the CDC should recall its staff from Kazakhstan to assess the situation.
Betsy McCaughey is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths.