With the largest Ebola outbreak under control, officials with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they see 2016 as an opportunity to transition away from responding to Ebola and toward strengthening the public health systems in countries vulnerable to infectious diseases.
According to Dr. Steve Redd, who heads the CDC's Office of Public Health Preparedness and response, more than 4,000 CDC employees have been part of the response efforts since Ebola was identified in West Africa in March 2014. He says of those, around 1,300 were sent to the affected countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone and Guinea have since been declared Ebola-free. Liberia was twice declared free of the disease, but small clusters of cases have since popped back up. In total, more than 28,600 Ebola cases were reported, with more than 11,300 deaths.
Redd says now, with just a few cases left, the agency will play a big part in President Obama’s Global Health Security Agenda. The U.S. has pledged to partner with 30 countries, including Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, to help them develop health systems to prevent similar outbreaks.
“I think a major lesson from the Ebola outbreak is that every country really needs the ability to identify and control outbreaks like Ebola before they get out of control,” Redd says.
Domestically, Redd says opioid overdoses and antibiotic resistance will be two of the agency's major focuses in 2016.
The CDC says in 2015 at least 23,000 Americans died from infections the agency says were largely preventable.
“The potential is even greater than that,” says Redd. “If large percentages of the bacteria that are out there that can cause infections develop the ability to evade the drugs we use to treat them, it could change the way medicine is practiced.”
On drug deaths, the CDC released a report in December that showed 2014 saw record high numbers of overdoses, both from opioid pain killers and heroin.
Redd says this year the agency plans to release opioid prescribing guidelines and work to expand state databases of those who have been prescribed the drugs to all 50 states.