Last week, we noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report about a spike in dengue cases in Puerto Rico. It’s just more evidence of what we’ve been saying all along: global health R&D matters for Americans, both in terms of health and economics.
And, this weekend, a story in the Palm Beach (FL) Post helped fortify that and another argument we make: Cutting research is not a deficit-reduction strategy.
According to reporter Stacey Singer, a CDC official warned the Florida Department of Health that Jacksonville was facing the worst tuberculosis outbreak the official had seen in two decades. But policy makers never got the message. They were too busy focusing on a restructuring – i.e., shrinking – of the Department of Health that Gov. Rick Scott (R) had signed into law only days earlier. Among that restructuring was the closing of A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana, located between West Palm Beach and Boynton Beach on Florida’s Atlantic coast. Holley had experience treating TB cases for more than 60 years.
Apparently unaware of the CDC report, the Department of Health mandated that Holley be closed six months ahead of schedule.
Now, as many as 3,000 people may have been in close contact with contagious people, yet only 253 have been tracked down. And TB has begun popping up in other parts of the state, including Miami.
The story notes State Rep. Matt Hudson (R-Naples) – the “champion of the health agency consolidation,” according to the story – said he too was unaware of the CDC report but promised that funding would be made available to treat those who were infected.
And it’s also left the local health department in a bind. Robert Harmon, MD, MPH, director of the Duval County Health Department, noted that in 2008, his agency had 946 employees and a $61 million budget. Today, there are 700 employees and a $46 million budget. If he can find $300,000, Harmon plans to hire experts to track down the thousands of others who may be unknowingly affected.
The story notes that a person with uncomplicated TB needs a months-long course of drugs to defeat the disease, which costs around $500. Not sticking to the course can and often does result in drug resistance.
“However,” Singer writes, “the itinerant homeless, drug-addicted, mentally ill people at the core of the Jacksonville TB cluster are almost impossible to keep on their medications.”
The cost of treating drug-resistant TB? $275,000.