Thursday, February 24, 2005

CDC's little corner of the world

If you were at this week's plenary session at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meetings in Washington, DC, you would have heard the head of CDC's influenza program, Dr. Nancy Cox, tell scientists that if the feared mutation in avian influenza A/H5N1 (bird flu) allowing the virus to pass easily from person to person comes about it could produce the worst pandemic in human history. And if you stayed to the next day you might have heard CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding tell the assembled audience that the current situation " 'probably' resembles the period before the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak when the virus was quietly mutating into a strain that would eventually leave 50 million people dead."

And if you stayed in Washington to the next day, again, and ambled over to the National Press Club, you would have heard the same CDC Director, Dr. Gerberding, tell the press establishment that ". . . the State of CDC is Great! and getting even better." In an address of over 3000 words, not one of them mentioned avian influenza.

Instead you would have heard a half hour's pep talk about how CDC was:
  • establishing two Centers of Excellence in Health Promotion Economics devoted to defining the most cost-effective ways to achieve health impact (I'm thrilled)
  • making efforts to find out what could have the biggest impact on health, efforts supported by the Administration and both Houses of Congress (makes you wonder about this one)
  • hiring seven new Chief Management Officials to improve their service and accountability to internal and external CDC "customers," and their accountability to taxpayers for stewardship of our funds (thanks, Julie; I appreciate it. And with the extra $120 from my tax cut I'd like to buy some public health protection--because I know what to do with my money better than Washington)
And you would have heard that CDC was taking steps to assure that
"the budget is linked to the goals…and that ultimately everyone will be able to see our progress. This is truly a transformation change. Change for any organization does not come easily, and there will be many bumps in the road as we evolve. Nevertheless, we are committed, we are making progress, and we will learn as we go, and we will succeed." (I hope you learn enough before the virus mutates)
Returning to the day before her cheerleading gig at the Press Club, Gerberding told the scientists at AAAS that
"We have to have incredibly fast communication and we have to have, most importantly, fast action," she said. Currently the CDC can tap into medical data that's just days old, but "if this were SARS or avian flu," she added, "that would not be fast enough."

[. . . ]

"A problem in a remote corner of the world becomes a world problem overnight," she said. "A world problem quickly becomes a local problem, in every corner of the world."
Maybe she should alert her Boss. He doesn't seem to get it.