GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has established three national Ebola training and prevention centers, and the state of Michigan also recently received more than $5.5 million to battle the virus.
But is the funding is needed now that the threat is waning? The short answer from local health officials is yes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “the 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history, affecting multiple countries in West Africa.” Those countries include Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
As of March, Michigan’s health departments have continually monitored more than 100 people who traveled to West Africa for Ebola symptoms. None have been diagnosed with the disease.
“I think that ever since the cases left the United States or there were no more cases in the United States, we kind of forgot about it,” said Brian Hartl, an epidemiologist with the Kent County Health Department. “I think just the fact that we kind of put it in the background a little bit kind of speaks to the need for it, ’cause I think that’s kind of human nature to put something behind you if you don’t see it all the time. And with Ebola, obviously, you always need to be prepared.”
Hartl said that though the West African threat is ebbing, there is still a need for additional funding and training.
“I don’t think it’s an overreaction,” said Hartl. “It may come across that way, but I think, again, we’re still preparing for Ebola.”
Hartl said that the preparations are for Ebola and whatever else may be on the horizon, like avian influenza and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
“The world is a smaller place now. Something can get from Korea or Thailand or other parts of the country to our front doorstep,” Hartl said. “These days you don’t know what you’re dealing with sometimes, and to be prepared for any situation is the best thing to do.”
Dirk Fillpot from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told 24 Hour News 8 via email that “ensuring that the public healthcare system is ready to treat diseases, whether Ebola or the next infectious disease that emerges, is vital to our nation’s health security.”
Michigan currently has three tier one hospitals that can identify, isolate, test and treat Ebola patients. One of those is Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in downtown Grand Rapids.