Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Stating the Obvious, Like the Worthless Piece of Shit That I Am

I'm just going to go ahead and state the obvious:  the United States should maintain a well-trained, well-equipped staff of doctors, nurses, and other personnel who can be deployed to fight an outbreak of infectious disease.  Specialists should design procedures well in advance of any actual deployment, and the unit should be supported by dedicated laboratories that can quickly study the disease and assess the data as it comes in.  Equipment, such as clothing and mobile containment units, should be designed carefully, and stockpiles should be maintained around the world.

This would all be very expensive.  In particular, drawing a lot of skilled medical professionals from actively caring for patients is never an easy thing to do.  But once the professionals are trained, they should be able to go back to regular practice, with periodic re-training and simulation exercises (much like military reserve officers).  And while the equipment would be expensive, it would be a drop in the bucket compared to the overall military budget, and it would probably spur development of valuable technology.

On top of all that, you have to compare the costs of maintaining a unit like that to the costs of not doing so.  The Ebola outbreak will be tremendously expensive for West Africa, and a similar outbreak could happen anywhere.  Spending a few billion up front seems like cheap insurance.

I'm agnostic about whether the U.S. should do this unilaterally, or whether it should be done through some sort of international organization.  Certainly it would be helpful to spread the costs around, and with international participation it would be easier to maintain fluency in all of the major languages.  It's true that this would involve sharing the technology, but that should not be a big deal, since it is "defensive."  (I guess the nightmare scenario is that a country participates in the program, learns its weaknesses, and then deploys biological warfare against the U.S. in a way designed to take advantage of deficiencies in the program.  That seems pretty unlikely though.)

The big question would be where and when to deploy the program.  West Africa seems like an easy case, but you can imagine situations where it would be much more fraught.  (For instance, if a similar outbreak happened in Syria.)  The program would have to involve not just medical professionals but also military or peacekeeping personnel, for crowd control and protection.  Probably the government would need to invite the professionals into the country and provide them with legal protections (the last thing we want to see is criminal proceedings against medical professionals based on any errors or hard choices they have to make).  All of this should be thought through ahead of time.  Maybe countries could put a treaty in place so that the legal protections are already there and don't have to be negotiated in real time.  (The government would still have to extend an invitation, but by treaty that invitation would come along with indemnification and procedures for entry into the country, etc.)

But anyway, we are at a point in history when our prosperity and our technological prowess demand that we invest substantial resources into this kind of thing.  It is crazy for thousands of people to die for lack of what I expect will come to be seen as a basic government service.