US agency accepts failure during Covid-19 - GulfToday

US agency accepts failure during Covid-19

A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. Reuters

A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. Reuters

The United States of America is the strongest economy in the world, and it has huge institutional structures to meet exigencies and emergencies on the health front and the economic front. But it wasn’t that simple it became evident when Covid-19 hit America in 2020 and 2021. It just reeled under the impact and more than half-a-million people died and hundreds of thousands were incapacitated physically and economically.

In 2020, then president Donald Trump refused to accept that Covid-19 was a pandemic and he refused to make the wearing of mask mandatory and he did not impose a lockdown where it was needed. It seems that the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky has now decided to shake up the organisation – insiders are calling it “reset” – to make it nimble. Firstly, there is the acknowledgement that the CDC failed to act quickly and adequately. It is a big confession to make for the Atlanta-based organisation with a budget of $12 billion and a staff of 11,000.

She said on Wednesday that the move to change is an internal initiative and that it has not come from the White House. Walensky became the director in January 2021. Speaking to the CDC staff, Walensky said, “For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for Covid-19, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations. I feel like it’s my responsibility to lead this agency to a better place, after a really challenging three years.”

There is the perception that the agency did not act quickly enough to collect data, test and issue public warning. Yale School of Public Health researcher Jason Schwartz said, “We saw during Covid that CDC’s structures, frankly, weren’t designed to take in information, digest it and disseminate it to the public at the speed necessary.” Walensky seemed to be aware of the slow reaction of the governmental behemoth.

She said , “It’s not lost on me that we fell short in many ways…We had some pretty public mistakes, and so much of this effort was to hold up the mirror…to understand where and how we could do better.” The proposed reorganisation has to be approved by the Department of Health and Human Sciences and once they approve, the changes will be implemented next year. Some of the changes that are being proposed include using pre-print scientific reports and extract actionable data, instead of waiting for the longer and slower weekly Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, improve the website and the communication channels.

This shows that America might be a big economy with a big private sector, but when it comes to public health crisis, the big factor did not help. When quick decisions were needed, there was unnecessary debate whether the pandemic was there or not and what should be done to combat it.

This is a job that could have been done better at local government level, but for some reason the gargantuan federal agencies are just unable to move like the old dinosaurs. In countries like, there was close coordination at all the governmental levels, the federal, the state and the district level. In many ways, the responsibility of monitoring the pandemic fell the district level health officials, and the same machinery worked successfully in the nationwide vaccination operation, vaccinating 900 million people through a phased manner. It means that organisation and money are not enough in themselves to tackle a crisis. There is need for nimbleness.

And it looks that is what Walensky intends to with her “reset” plan, make it flexible, and clear the communication channels. In other words, CDC is involved in the act of shaping up.

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