Nobel Prize-winning scientist cites government funding as most effective method of biopreparedness

Photo courtesy of Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute

For Nobel Prize-winning research scientist Dr. Peter Agre, the most important act in preparing for bioterrorism or disease outbreak is for the government to fully fund the budgets of research scientists.

Agre is the director of the Malaria Research Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and he believes that cutting the budgets of research scientists who are studying biological agents is the wrong move.

“I think lack of preparedness can be tied to lack of investment. To adequately prepare, we have to have a talented workforce. It’s not a situation where you can wait until an epidemic to throw funding in.”

As a medical doctor and research scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Agre is responsible for overseeing research at the Malaria Research Institute in Baltimore, as well as field activities in Africa.

It’s also important, he said, to keep perspective when it comes to Ebola.

“The Ebola epidemic is occuring in three rather small countries in West Africa,” Agre said. “We have to take care of Africa. What’s alarming is the collapse of the public health system because of people’s fears.”

People are afraid of Ebola, so they’re not getting their vaccinations for conditions like tuberculosis, malaria or measles. Immunizations are going way down because people are afraid,” he said.

The United States is making credible efforts to prepare for and prevent an outbreak of a disease like Ebola, and Agre said that although the media coverage has largely alerted the public to the potential and what is occurring to prevent problems, he hasn’t noticed mass hysteria.

“Preparations have been made, but we don’t have a 100 percent foolproof solution,” he said. “It does worry me though, that preparation is being dictated by politicians with no background in public health, biology or medicine.”

Budget cuts are definitely felt at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), where Director Anthony S. Fauci is one of those with “remarkable talent” in the United States working on the problems of infectious diseases like Ebola.

“Anthony Fauci is doing a very good job of talking to the public and keeping them informed,” Agre said.