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Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) In Dual Role as Chair, Harkin will lead a Joint Hearing of the Senate HELP Committee and LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee:

“Ebola in West Africa: A Global Challenge and Public Health Threat”

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“In March of this year, public health officials reported an outbreak of Ebola virus in the West African country of Guinea. Unlike past Ebola outbreaks that have been efficiently and effectively stopped, this outbreak has spread in ways that are potentially catastrophic for the world. Due to the gravity of the situation and the danger it poses not only to the affected region but also to the United States, I have taken the unusual step of calling together this joint hearing of the authorizing committee I chair and the appropriations subcommittee I chair. We have come together today to learn all we can, so we can work together effectively over the coming weeks and months to stop this deadly plague.

“The extent of this epidemic is tragic – and it grows more serious with each passing day. The death toll is already far greater than all other previous Ebola outbreaks combined. The World Health Organization estimates that 20,000 people may become infected by December if current control efforts are not strengthened. Other estimates are much higher.

“And Ebola is just one example of a threat from infectious disease. Others include avian flu and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. In today’s globalized system of air travel and trade, health threats easily crisscross the planet. This is why I have worked hard throughout my time in the Senate to strengthen investments in public health preparedness and response capabilities at home.

“Last year, the bipartisan Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act (PAHPRA) was signed into law. This law, which I led through the HELP Committee – working closely with Senators Enzi, Alexander, Casey, and Burr – advances national health security by strengthening CDC’s public health preparedness and response capabilities and ensuring the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has the authority it needs to support the development of critical treatments and vaccines.

“In the appropriations committee, I have worked for years to secure additional funding at CDC to set up a network of disease detection centers across the globe – we now have 10, including three in Africa. It is these centers that are now deploying trained epidemiologists and other staff to help in epidemic areas and those at high risk. 

“I hope and expect that, in the next day or two, the Senate will vote in favor of the $88 million that Senator Moran and I worked to secure in the continuing resolution to do just that. This is a crucial investment that will enable 100 CDC scientists to continue working in West Africa, and it will keep ZMAPP and vaccine candidates moving quickly through clinical trials.  But as important as this is, it is just a first step. Ebola will not be conquered in the 10 weeks of the continuing resolution. 

“When we come back to negotiate the fiscal year 2015 appropriations bills, the fight to contain Ebola must continue to be an urgent priority. The subcommittee passed a Senate Labor-HHS bill that includes a new $40 million Global Health Security Initiative. We must carefully consider the size and goals of this initiative in light of the Ebola outbreak, while maintaining our commitment to CDC staff in the field. And as this crisis illustrates: We must stop chasing diseases after the fact and start building public health systems capable of detecting and stopping diseases before they cross borders. Last year, with the help of Senator Moran, I was able to start a new global initiative called the National Public Health Institutes to do just that. This program needs to be expanded in light of this epidemic.  

“With these big challenges ahead of us, today’s hearing is absolutely critical. We have a distinguished group of speakers here to educate us and advise us.”