Long before the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the United States was already experiencing a failure of confidence between politicians and scientists, primarily focused on differences of opinion on climate extremes. This ongoing clash has culminated in an environment where politicians most often no longer listen to scientists. Importation of Ebola virus to the United States prompted an immediate political fervor over travel bans, sealing off borders and disputes over the reliability of both quarantine and treatment protocol. This demonstrated that evidenced- based scientific discourse risks taking a back seat to political hyperbole and fear. The role of public health and medical expertise should be to ensure that cogent response strategies, based upon good science and accumulated knowledge and experience, are put in place to help inform the development of sound public policy. But in times of crisis, such reasoned expertise and experience are too often overlooked in favor of the partisan press “sound bite”, where fear and insecurity have proved to be severely counterproductive. While scientists recognize that science cannot be entirely apolitical, the lessons from the impact of Ebola on political discourse shows that there is need for stronger engagement of the scientific community in crafting messages required for response to such events. This includes the creation of moral and ethical standards for the press, politicians and scientists, a partnership of confidence between the three that does not now exist and an “elected officials” toolbox that helps to translate scientific evidence and experience into readily acceptable policy and public communication.
Affiliation: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Health Security, Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Department of Emergency Medicine, George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA
Dan Hanfling, MD is a consultant on emergency preparedness, response and crisis management. He is a Contributing Scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine at George Washington University and adjunct faculty at the George Mason University School of Public Policy. He served as principal advisor to the Inova Health System (Falls Church, VA) on matters related to emergency preparedness and response from 1996 to 2014, including direct contributions to the successful management of two inhalational anthrax cases in October 2001, a result of which was the creation of the hospital coalition concept, and the founding of one of the nation’s first healthcare coalitions, the Northern Virginia Hospital Alliance in October 2002. His areas of expertise include biodefense and mass casualty management, catastrophic disaster response planning with particular emphasis on scarce resource allocation, and the nexus between healthcare system planning and emergency management. He is the Operational Medical Director for a helicopter EMS service with 6 aircraft servicing northern Virginia and Baltimore. He serves as a Medical Team Manager for the Fairfax County based FEMA and USAID sanctioned international urban search and rescue team (VATF-1, USA-1), and has responded to catastrophic disaster events across the globe. Dr. Hanfling has been invited to direct a number of key projects related to preparedness efforts. He served as Vice Chair of the National Academy of Sciences Institute on Medicine Committee on Establishing Guidelines for Standards of Care During Disasters and served as editor for three landmark reports published by the Institute of Medicine (National Academies). He helped lead a Booz Allen Hamilton consulting project for the Veterans Health Administration focused on healthcare facility emergency management. He convened an ad hoc task force and served as lead editor for the HHS/ASPR development of hospital guidance for Ebola Virus Disease. He is chair of the healthcare delivery taskforce of the CDC-directed National Health Security Preparedness Index project. He is author and co-author of numerous articles focused on preparedness and response, and consults to ASPR, CDC, DHS and the VA on such matters. Dr. Hanfling received his undergraduate degree in political science from Duke University, and completed his medical degree at Brown University. He completed his internship in Internal Medicine at Brown University. He completed his emergency medicine training at the combined George Washington and Georgetown University residency program.