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Speaking Out

In response to the Ebola outbreak, APHA highlighted the need for appropriate public health funding, preparedness and support:

In a Modern Healthcare piece that pointed out "The Ebola outbreak in West Africa and its arrival in the U.S. placed a renewed focus on state and local public health departments' preparedness for handling infectious disease threats. But some experts say the country is far from ready for the next outbreak..."

“Unless we can continue to make a compelling case, the absence of a crisis will result in a whole degree of apathy and lack of foresight in terms of what we are going to need,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

In a Mother Jones article about the need for more investment in Ebola response and control:

Experts say the the case of Pham and her colleague, Amber Vinson, illustrates the need for improved resources and training. The two nurses were were infected with Ebola while treating Thomas Duncan, a Liberian who contracted the disease in Monrovia before visiting family in Texas...

"We underestimated the preparedness of hospitals," says Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "We made the assumption that they handle blood and body fluids all the time so this would be no different. The challenge is the volume of body fluids from this disease is enormous—that meant the protective gear needed had to be greater than before."

In a McClatchy article titled 'Epidemic of fear' has driven Ebola debate, experts say...

Kaci Hickox, a Doctors Without Borders nurse who treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, was, upon returning, kept in an isolation tent for a weekend by New Jersey officials, even though she showed no symptoms of the virus.

She was permitted to return home to Maine, where officials tried to legally quarantine her. A judge ruled in her favor, requiring only that Hickox monitor herself for signs of Ebola for 21 days, which ended Monday night.

“The fear is trumping science,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Lawmakers continue to call for outright travel bans from West Africa, which, experts say, would only cause people to seek alternative entry while discouraging U.S. caregivers from helping out in Africa.

In a Nov. 5 Education Week op-ed titled Lessons from Ebola...

Now is the time to make a plan to keep schools safe and start talking to one another about how we can execute it. Planning ahead, instead of scrambling in a time of crisis, is education's best chance for preventing and dealing with an outbreak of any kind.

In an article in the Columbus Dispatch...

The head of the American Public Health Association has offered his support for the new CDC recommendations, but has said the organization objects to mandatory quarantines for asymptomatic health-care workers.

“While we understand there is concern among the public about this disease, we need to follow the science, which is being reinforced every day. Ebola can only be transmitted by direct contact with the body fluids of individuals experiencing symptoms. Until an individual has symptoms, he or she is not contagious,” Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin said in a statement.

In an article in the St. Augustine Record...

On Tuesday, the American Public Health Association came out in support of the new CDC guidelines and against state-imposed quarantines.

"We strongly urge elected leaders to defer quarantine powers for public health officials," said a statement by association Executive Director Georges Benjamin. "It is a public health measure that ought to be used with extreme care and only under the most urgent circumstances. Misuse or overuse of quarantine authority will erode public trust and thwart future efforts to control infectious disease when you need it most."

In a Boston Globe article about new federal guidelines aimed at stemming the spread of Ebola...

Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said quarantine powers should be used thoughtfully and judiciously.

“By creating an overreaction, they’re doing more to create uncertainty and fear than is necessary that I believe will make their jobs more difficult down the line,” Benjamin said.

In a McClatchy News Service article about states creating a "patchwork of Ebola quarantine rules"...

“At some point, an outbreak may get so bad that you may have to use quarantine in a much more aggressive manner, and you want people to comply with it,” said Benjamin. “If people believe you are doing this in an arbitrary and capricious manner, people will begin to lie about their symptoms and they’re going to hide from you, and that’s the overwhelming risk.”

People’s movements shouldn’t be restricted as long as they don’t have any symptoms, he said, adding that it would be best if there were one national standard across the country.

“The states always have the right to do what they want, but I think the CDC and administration’s standards that they had adopted – with active monitoring and recording (of temperature) without further restriction of movement – were reasonable and appropriate,” he said.

In contrast, he said, the decisions of states such as New York and New Jersey to quarantine travelers who showed no symptoms of Ebola “were not based in the best science and not well thought through.” New York subsequently eased its policy.

In an Oct. 23 Los Angeles Times piece about CDC's new guidelines for monitoring travelers coming from West Africa...

Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, head of the American Public Health Assn., called the new step an “elegant solution,” noting that public health departments are familiar with this kind of monitoring and shouldn’t be overly burdened since the number of travelers is relatively low.

On The Bill Press Show...

Bill Press: "How frightened should average Americans be today about Ebola?

Georges Benjamin: They shouldn't be frightened. I mean, you're much more likely to be struck by lightning than to get Ebola."

In a Bloomberg News article about the spread of Ebola to two health care workers in a Dallas Hospital...

“This is a disaster,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director for the American Public Health Association, a Washington-based nonprofit. “A lot of assumptions were made about the readiness of this hospital and its ability to manage this outbreak in their hospital. It appears that a lot of those assumptions were incorrect.”

Hospitals and public health departments have been “starved” of resources as government budgets have tightened, leading them to cut preparedness programs and disaster planning, Benjamin said in a telephone interview.

In a Bloomberg News article about calls for the CDC director's resignation...

“CDC is learning and adapting very quickly and you have a director willing to say, ‘This wasn’t done the best, I wish I could have foreseen this,’” said Georges Benjamin, executive director for the American Public Health Association, a Washington-based nonprofit. 

In an Oct. 15 Modern Healthcare piece about public health funding...

The lower funding levels of recent years translated into reduced training programs and fewer local health workers, according to public health and emergency preparedness experts. Local health departments have lost 44,000 jobs since 2008, according to the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).

“We've been making lots of noise about how we thought those were inappropriate cuts,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “This has been the traditional yo-yo funding that has occurred in public health.”

In a U.S. News & World Report opinion piece Benjamin wrote, arguing against implementing a travel ban...

"While we are appropriately worried about Ebola, enterovirus-68 has sickened more than 628 people in 44 states and the District of Columbia, a severe coronavirus – the Middle East respiratory syndrome – is circulating in the Middle East and chikungunya virus has entered our country. We have many significant biological threats, and they are all managed best through proven public health measures.

I have yet to hear calls to quarantine our borders between states while these serious diseases are already here because such a measure, of course, would be ineffective. Sound disease surveillance, case finding, monitoring and treatment is the appropriate approach. Ebola, although highly lethal, can be managed using these proven methods. We know its epidemiology, its biology and how to defeat it.

A strong, well-developed and adequately funded public health system is the key to containing Ebola and all of these other infectious threats. Unfortunately, ongoing budget cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies continue to put a strain on resources. Policymakers who want to be part of the solution need only to support ensuring our public health system is adequately funded and allowed to do its job.

Yes, we should screen travelers, but restricting travel is not the solution. A focused, robust and science-based public health response is."